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Great Observatories program

NASA's series of Great Observatories satellites are four large, powerful space-based astronomical telescopes. Each of the four missions was designed to examine a specific wavelength/energy region of the electromagnetic spectrum (gamma rays, X-rays, visible and ultraviolet light, infrared light) using very different technologies. Charles Pellerin implemented the program. The four Great Observatories were launched between 1990 and 2003 and three remain operational as of 2018.
Spitzer was the only one of the Great Observatories not launched by the Space Shuttle. It was originally intended to be so launched, but after the Challenger disaster, the Centaur LH2/LOX upper stage that would have been required to push it into a heliocentric orbit was banned from Shuttle use. Titan and Atlas rockets were canceled for cost reasons. After redesign and lightening, it was launched by a Delta II rocket instead.
Gamma rays had been examined above the atmosphere by several early space missions. During its High Energy Astronomy Observatory Program in 1977, NASA announced plans to build a "great observatory" for gamma-ray astronomy. The Gamma Ray Observatory (GRO), renamed Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory (CGRO), was designed to take advantage of the major advances in detector technology during the 1980s. Following 14 years of effort, the CGRO was launched on 5 April 1991.
By the early 1970s, astronomers began to consider the possibility of placing an infrared telescope above the obscuring effects of Earth's atmosphere. Most of the early concepts, envisioned repeated flights aboard the NASA Space Shuttle. This approach was developed in an era when the Shuttle program was presumed to be capable of supporting weekly flights of up to 30 days duration. In 1979, a National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences report, A Strategy for Space Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 1980s, identified a Shuttle Infrared Telescope Facility (SIRTF) as "one of two major astrophysics facilities for Spacelab," a Shuttle-borne platform.
Hubble also benefits from being above the atmosphere, as the atmosphere blurs ground-based observations of very faint objects, decreasing spatial resolution (however brighter objects can be imaged in much higher resolution than by Hubble from the ground using astronomical interferometers or adaptive optics). Larger, ground-based telescopes have only recently matched Hubble in resolution for near-infrared wavelengths of faint objects. Being above the atmosphere eliminates the problem of airglow, allowing Hubble to make observations of ultrafaint objects. Ground-based telescopes cannot compensate for airglow on ultrafaint objects, and so very faint objects require unwieldy and inefficient exposure times. Hubble can also observe at ultraviolet wavelengths which do not penetrate the atmosphere.
Ultraviolet studies with Hubble also reveal the temporal states of high-energy objects. X-rays and gamma rays are harder to detect with current technologies than visible and ultraviolet. Therefore, Chandra and Compton needed long integration times to gather enough photons. However, objects which shine in x-rays and gamma rays can be small, and can vary on timescales of minutes or seconds. Such objects then call for followup with Hubble or the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer, which can measure details in angular seconds or fractions of a second, due to different designs. Rossi's last full year of operation was 2011.