Feeds

Clock ticking on NASA’s low-cost X-ray stargazer

NuSTAR launch postponed

Build a business case: developing custom apps

NASA has set March 18 as the soonest revised date for the launch of its NuSTAR X-ray satellite observatory, after delaying the “flight readiness review” it had scheduled for March 13.

According to NASA’s mission page, NuSTAR is now on a six-day countdown (at the time of writing).

NuSTAR is a belt-tightening novelty for the big-spending space agency: although it’s designed to catch hard X-rays from distant galaxies, it’s working to a shoestring budget of just $US165 million.

Artist Impression of NuSTAR

Artist impression of NuSTAR. Source: Caltech

Part of the low cost comes from an unusual launch approach. NuSTAR will be carried by a Pegasus XL vehicle which itself will be released from an Lockheed L-1101 aircraft over the Marshall Islands (where it now awaits lift-off).

NASA says the delay is “to allow time for a review of data and simulations to qualify software associated with a new Pegasus flight computer.”

NuSTAR – the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array – is designed to detect “hard” X-rays at energies between 5 and 80 kiloelectronvolts.

This radiation penetrates mirrors, which make it hard to focus onto a detector. The design team has created a sandwich of thin films, each of which is tuned to reflect photons of a specific energy. These films are arranged as nested conical shells.

The mirrors are arranged so that instead of trying to capture X-rays striking them directly, they capture X-rays that are nearly parallel to the mirror surface. This, however, means there’s a much smaller collection area – a problem overcome by the nested mirror arrangement used in NuSTAR.

The other design challenge, according to Nature, was to build a low-cost structure with a long focal length, and make it small enough to fit inside the Pegasus rocket. The solution was to create a 10-meter folding truss which will have to be deployed after NuSTAR reaches orbit.

Once in space, NuSTAR will be able to detect galaxies – in particular, the active galactic nuclei, which give off X-rays as energized particles orbit black holes – that are hidden from current instruments by dust and gas. According to mission partner Caltech, the instrument will be “100 times the sensitivity of previous missions that have operated in this part of the electromagnetic spectrum.”

Its initial two-year science program also includes a black hole survey, mapping remnants from recent stellar explosions, and searching for the remnants of exploded stars in the Milky Way. ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
prev story

Whitepapers

A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.