Date: June 15 2012
WASHINGTON: A sophisticated orbiting telescope that uses high-energy X-ray vision to hunt for black holes has been launched after a two-stage aircraft-to-rocket takeoff, NASA says.
The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, was lifted into the skies by Orbital Sciences' L-1011 aircraft, carrying a rocket on its underbelly that later launched the satellite.
''With spacecraft separation confirmed, the Orbital Sciences' Pegasus XL rocket has successfully launched NASA's NuSTAR spacecraft into orbit,'' NASA said.
Such plane-assisted launches were less expensive than launches from the ground because they required less fuel to boost cargo away from the pull of Earth's gravity, the US space agency said.
The jet took off from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
The NuSTAR project aims to study energetic phenomena such as black holes and the explosions of massive stars.
''NuSTAR will open a whole new window on the universe,'' said Fiona Harrison, who is a professor at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and is the principal investigator for NuSTAR.
It will be the ''first telescope to focus on high energy X-rays. As such it will make images that are 10 times crisper and 100 times more sensitive than any telescope that has operated in this region of the spectrum''.
The mission aimed to work with other telescopes in space, including NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, which observes lower-energy X-rays, NASA said.
NuSTAR is more potent than its predecessors because of the way it focuses high-energy X-ray light by using nested shells of mirrors to prevent the light reflecting off. With 133 nested mirrors in each of two optical units, the telescope also uses state-of-the-art detectors and a long mast that connects the optical units to the detectors and allows enough distance for a sharp focus.
The 10-metre mast will launch in a folded-up position but will extend about a week after launch, bringing it to about the length of a bus.
''It used to be thought that black holes were rare and exotic - that was just 20 years ago,'' Dr Harrison said. ''Today we know that every massive galaxy, like our Milky Way, has a massive black hole at its heart.''
The new observatory aims to give a better view of the workings of a black hole.
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