NuSTAR about to launch

NASA is getting ready to launch a new X-ray satellite, NuSTAR. This satellite will observe harder X-rays than we are currently able to. More specifically, this satellite is able to produce high-resolution images of the hard X-rays that come from the decay of isotopes produced in supernovae; the ability to observe hard X-rays with high spectral resolution should also let us probe neutron star formation. Plus it may help us pin down that hard X-ray emission from anomalous X-ray pulsars that nobody understands.

If all this sounds hopelessly technical, sorry. It's still impressive to me that they're going to take this hundred million dollar spaceship, fill it with what amounts to high explosives, strap it underneath a discontinued Lockheed airplane, fly it up into the air near Kwajalein, then drop it and light the fuse. The rocket will then burn for a few hundred seconds, dropping several stages and winding up in low Earth orbit. Once there, the mast holding the mirrors will extend from its one-meter storage canister to its full ten-meter length, the satellite will extend its solar arrays, and scientists will begin debugging and calibrating the instruments. That's if everything goes well; no Pegasus launcher (which this is) has ever actually exploded, though one pair of satellites failed to exit its fairing. So there are some people chewing fingernails, and there's some real drama here. You can watch it online.

Sorry for the hurried nature of the post; I'm planning to watch it live and report on the results as soon as we know.

Edited to add: Success! At least so far. The satellite is in orbit and the solar panels work. The last big worry-point is the extension of the boom; the ten-meter beam that holds the mirrors in position relative to the cameras is currently folded into a one-meter canister. Supposedly, the scientists were reassured that "we can't give you any details, but we know how" to build such a boom, but it won't extend for another week. That'll be followed by a few weeks worth of testing and calibration. But so far so good.

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