NuSTAR – NASA’s Black hole hunter with keen X-ray has finally been launched. The size of a school bus, NASA has equipped this orbiting telescope with high-resolution X-ray cameras that would be able to hunt for light sources from very near black holes.
NuSTAR is the short of the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) spacecraft. It would take off from an Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket that will be carried aloft by an L-1011 Stargazer aircraft. The rocket-carrying airplane will take off from the Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean. Then ce the new space observatory would be launched at 11:30 a.m. EDT (1530 GMT).
Mission managers are very excited since the launch vehicle arrived at the launch site last Thursday.
While talking to the press, Omar Baez, launch director at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., said, “Hopefully at 3:30 in the morning Thursday here Kwajalein local, we’ll have our drop of the Pegasus XL and the NuSTAR mission on its way to its intended orbit.”
All eyes are up at the sky gauging the weather and forecasters have given the happy news of 85 % chance of good weather for the launch.
This latest mission of NASA costs about $165 million. The major astrophysics project in the form of NuSTAR has an X-ray telescope installed in the satellite that is intended to capture some of the universe’s most high-energy light from extreme places such as the close vicinities of black holes and the remnants of dead stars.
William Craig, NuSTAR instrument manager at the University of California at Berkeley, said, “It opens up a new window into the high energy universe.”
Unlike a typical satellite launch that rockets off from the earth, NuSTAR would be dropped from a plane near the equator and then would be zoomed off into scape using the booster attached to it.
NASA says that launching the satellite from a plane is cheaper because it does not have to fight the atmosphere, saving precious rocket fuel. The plane will also make sure the satellite is dropped near the equator that gives it a viewing vantage with minimum interference from background light. The plane would drop the booster at about 120 miles south of the Kwajalein Atoll.
This strategic use of plane places the NuSTAR mission of NASA as part of its relatively low-budget Small Explorer class of missions.