Dulles, Va.-based Orbital Sciences Corp. shipped NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) spacecraft Jan. 24 to Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., where it will be mated with an Orbital-built Pegasus launch vehicle in preparation for its March 14 launch.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory-managed mission will be launched into Earth orbit from the wing of Orbital’s L-1011 Stargazer aircraft, which will take off from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. NuSTAR and its air-launched Pegasus rocket will fly from Vandenberg to Kwajalein attached to the underside of the L-1011, and are scheduled to arrive March 7, NASA said in a press release. The mission will be the first for Pegasus since October 2008 when it launched NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer satellite, another small-explorer-class mission featuring an Orbital-built spacecraft bus.
NuSTAR’s telescope consists of two sets of 133 concentric shells of mirror, which were shaped from a flexible glass similar to that use for laptop computer screens, NASA said. The approximately $160 million mission will spend two years in a near-equatorial orbit detecting X-rays from objects ranging from the sun to giant black holes billions of light-years away.
“The NuSTAR mission is unique because it will be the first NASA mission to focus on X-rays in the high-energy range, creating the most detailed images ever taken in this slice of the electromagnetic spectrum,” Fiona Harrison, the mission’s principal investigator at the California Institute of Technology, said in a Jan. 25 statement.