Feeds

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

NuSTAR launch postponed

Intelligent flash storage arrays

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. ®

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
What's that STINK? Rosetta probe shoves nose under comet's tail
Rotten eggs, horse dung and almonds – yuck
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Kip Thorne explains how he created the black hole for Interstellar
Movie special effects project spawns academic papers on gravitational lensing
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
LONG ARM of the SAUR: Brachially gifted dino bone conundrum solved
Deinocheirus mirificus was a bit of a knuckle dragger
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.