Wednesday, June 13, 2012

NuSTAR Flying Free

The above series of images show NASA's NuSTAR spacecraft, along with OSC's Pegasus XL rocket, dropping from OSC's Stargazer aircraft. Image Credit: Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC)

It's up! NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) launched into the morning skies over the central Pacific Ocean at noon EDT (9 AM PDT) today (Wednesday).

The observatory began its journey aboard a Lockheed L-1011 aircraft named Stargazer, owned and operated by Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC), Dulles, Virginia. NuSTAR was perched atop OSC's three-stage Pegasus XL rocket, both of which were strapped to the belly of Stargazer. The aircraft left Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean one hour before launch. At 12:00:35 PM EDT (9:00:35 AM PDT), the rocket dropped, free-falling for five seconds before firing its first-stage motor.

About 13 minutes after the drop, NuSTAR separated from the third stage, reaching its final low-Earth orbit. The first signal from the spacecraft was received at 12:14 PM EDT (9:14 AM PDT) via NASA's Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System. NuSTAR then spread its solar panels to charge the spacecraft battery and confirmed with ground control that all was well.

The NuSTAR mission's unique telescope design includes a 33-foot (10-meter) mast, which was folded up in a small canister prior to launch. In about seven days, engineers will command the mast to extend, enabling the telescope to focus properly. About 23 days later, science operations are scheduled to begin.

Once science operations commence, NuSTAR will be the first space telescope to create sharp images of X-rays with high energies. It will conduct a census for black holes, map radioactive material in young supernovae remnants, and study the origins of cosmic rays and extreme physics around collapsed stars. In addition, NuSTAR will study our sun's fiery atmosphere, looking for clues as to how it is heated. NuSTAR will provide complementary data to NASA's larger observatory missions, including Fermi, Chandra, Hubble and Spitzer.

And now, the mission particulars...

NuSTAR is a Small Explorer mission led by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, also in Pasadena, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The spacecraft was built by Orbital Sciences Corporation, Dulles, Virginia. Its instrument was built by a consortium including Caltech; JPL; the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkley); Columbia University, New York; NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland; the Danish Technical University in Denmark; Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Livermore, California; and ATK Aerospace Systems, Goleta, California. NuSTAR will be operated by UC Berkeley, with the Italian Space Agency providing its equatorial ground station located at Malindi, Kenya. The mission's outreach program is based at Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, California. NASA's Explorer Program is managed by Goddard. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.

The launch management and government oversight for the mission is the responsibility of NASA's Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. For more information on the NuSTAR mission, visit www.nasa.gov/nustar and www.nustar.caltech.edu/ .

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