The Orbital-designed and -built Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) scientific spacecraft was successfully launched into orbit by an Orbital Pegasus rocket in a mission originating from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific ocean on June 13, 2012. The Pegasus rocket was carried aloft by Orbital's Stargazer L-1011 carrier aircraft to an altitude of approximately 39,000 ft. where it was released and fell for approximately five seconds before ignition of its first stage motor. The launch, from ignition to spacecraft separation, took approximately 13 minutes with NuSTAR placed in a low-Earth equatorial orbit at an altitude of approximately 600 km and an inclination of 6 degrees. The spacecraft will undergo an approximately 30-day long check-out period after which it will begin a two-and-a-half year science mission.
The spacecraft will use high-energy X-rays to detect black holes and other energetic phenomena in the universe. The NuSTAR program is being led by Principal Investigator Dr. Fiona Harrison of Caltech. Its mission is to help scientists answer fundamental questions about the universe, such as:
- How black holes are distributed throughout the cosmos
- How the elements of the universe were created
- What powers the most extreme active galaxies
With answers to these and other questions, NuSTAR will expand our understanding of the origins and destinies of stars and galaxies.
About LEOStar-2 Satellites
The NuSTAR spacecraft is based on Orbital’s proven LEOStar-2™ design. NuSTAR will be the eighth satellite to be based on this platform, taking advantage of a growing heritage of excellent in-orbit performance from previous missions. Other LEOStar-based satellites that Orbital has designed and built for previous NASA scientific missions include SORCE, GALEX and AIM.
Orbital’s three-stage solid motor Pegasus launch vehicle is designed to deploy small satellites weighing up to 1,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit. This patented air-launch system reduces cost and provides customers with unparalleled flexibility to operate from virtually anywhere on Earth with minimal ground support requirements. To date Orbital has conducted 41 Pegasus missions, launching over 80 satellites from sites in the U.S. (Vandenberg AFB, NASA Wallops Flight Facility, Cape Canaveral AFS, and Edwards AFB), Europe and the Marshall Islands, the first time a space launch vehicle has demonstrated such operational flexibility.
For more information:
Orbital NuSTAR web page
Orbital NuSTAR fact sheet
Orbital Pegasus web page
Caltech's NuSTAR web site
Follow the NuSTAR mission on Twitter and Facebook:
Facebook (Orbital and NASA)