NuSTAR X-Ray Telescope Launched — Update 3

NuSTAR X-Ray Telescope Launched — Update 3

UPDATE 3:  Launch went as planned.

UPDATE 2:  Everything is proceeding nominally.  Launch still scheduled for 12:00 noon EDT.  Follow us on Twitter @SpcPlcyOnline.

UPDATE:   Live audio and video launch coverage is now available at as the aircraft is about to take off from Kwajalein.

ORIGINAL STORY: NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) is currently scheduled for launch at 12:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) today.  The launch was delayed for about 30 minutes because of a receiver issue that was quickly resolved.

A launch blog is available at the NuStar website.  Various people/organizations are tweeting it, including @nasakennedy, @nasajpl, and @NASANuSTAR.   NuSTAR will be launched by a Pegasus rocket that is dropped from an L-1011 aircraft.  The aircraft is scheduled to depart Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean at 11:00 am EDT and will drop the Pegasus about an hour later.  Weather is not expected to be a factor today. 

NuSTAR is an x-ray telescope that will study celestial phenomena, including x-ray sources at the event horizons of black holes.   One cannot see into a black hole, but the material being sucked into the black hole can be observed as it gets very close to that threshold.  

Fiona Harrison of CalTech is the principal investigator for the mission.   She explained at a press conference on Tuesday that NuSTAR can observe black holes at x-ray energies higher than those studied by NASA’s Chandra x-ray observatory, for example.  NuSTAR will be able to study “regions that are hotter, where particles are accelerated close to the speed of light.”

Harrison said that the lifecycle cost of the NuSTAR mission is $165-170 million including the spacecraft, launch, and two years of science operations.  She talked about the advantage of using the Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Pegasus launch system, which is dropped from an aircraft that can depart from many locations around the world.   NuSTAR is headed for an equatorial orbit.  By using the Pegasus system, NuSTAR could depart from Kwajalein Atoll and be fairly close to the equator at the launch point.  Kwajalein is a U.S. missile test site in the Marshall Islands and is just 8 degrees north of the equator.   The L-1011 will fly 117 miles south before releasing the Pegasus rocket at an altitude of 39,000 feet.

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