Wednesday, June 13, 2012

So much coolness! (For nerds like me, I mean.)

No, that's not a still from 2001, although at first glance, it does look like it could be, doesn't it? Actually, it's an artist's conception of NuSTAR in orbit around the Earth.

NuSTAR (short for Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope ARray) has apparently launched successfully (press release | Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog post). It is a space-based observatory designed to focus on high energy x-rays, which, National Geographic says, will allow it to:

... capture images of black holes, neutron stars, and other cosmic bodies with a hundred times more sensitivity and ten times better resolution than previous spacecraft.

The way it got into space was by being attached to a rocket, which was attached to an airplane, which flew up to 40,000 feet and dropped it. Five seconds later, the first of the rocket's three stages fired:

The satellite is stored on the rocket in a collapsed state -- only two meters long. Once in orbit, it extends to ten meters long.

The launch system, called Pegasus, is claimed by its owner, Orbital Sciences Corporation, to be the "world's first privately developed space launch vehicle." Its maiden launch was in 1990 (!).

More pix in the gallery, hosted on the mission home page, via NASA.

(h/t: KK, via email)

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