Last week, the NASA Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) telescope passed a critical post-launch review, allowing experts to move ahead with the spacecraft's science mission. The observatory reached its position in Earth's orbit on June 14.
The spacecraft was launched aboard a Pegasus XL delivery system, built by Virginia-based Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC). The same company built the Stargazer L-1011 aircraft that delivered the rocket high into Earth's atmosphere, before releasing it for its mid-air launch.
The mission took off on June 13, from an airfield at the US Army's Reagan test site, on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. The tiny island is located halfway between Hawaii and Australia.
Designed to survey the high-energy Universe at X-ray wavelengths, NuSTAR has a mission to investigate the nature of black holes, supernova blasts, neutron stars, and of other mysterious objects.
Now that the post-launch review has been successfully completed, scientists managing the mission can look ahead to the beginning of its primary science phase, scheduled for early August, Space
The assessment was conducted by experts at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in Pasadena, California. Their tests included a full check-up of the spacecraft, its instruments and its deployed mast.
The most impressive feature on the telescope is a 10-meter (33-foot) mast, which can be moved forwards and backwards, essentially giving the orbital telescope the ability to zoom in and out. This is the first X-ray observatory capable of zoom.
NuSTAR took its first image on June 28, when mission controllers trained it on Cygnus X-1, a well-known and heavily studied black hole located nearby. The reason why this target was selected is that it shines with extreme brightness in X-ray wavelengths.
Last week also saw the telescope being focused on the distant quasar 3C 273, which is located 2.4 billion light-years away. The object is the active core of a galaxy and it is powered by a supermassive black hole.
NuSTAR's study of 3C 273 was part of an international effort that also included the NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory and the Swift satellite, the European Space Agency's (ESA) International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL) and XMM-Newton telescopes, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's (JAXA) Suzaku satellite.