NuSTAR Rides Pegasus to Orbit

“Stargazer” L-1011 Aircraft with NuSTAR Prior to Take Off – T-105 minutes
Image Credit: NASA TV / UStream

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) spacecraft is scheduled for launch this morning 13 June 2012, after being postponed this Spring. Launch is currently scheduled for 9:00 AM Phoenix time (16:00 UTC), with a window between 8:30 AM and 12:30 PM Phoenix time (15:30-19:30 UTC). Coverage and commentary will be broadcast online beginning 90 minutes before launch at

At 7:25 AM Phoenix time, we are 1 hour and 35 minutes from launch.


NuSTAR X-RAY Observatory Set for Launch on Wednesday

Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR)
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) spacecraft is scheduled for launch this coming Wednesday 13 June 2012, after being postponed this Spring. Launch is scheduled for a window between 8:30 AM and 12:30 PM Phoenix time (15:30-19:30 UTV). Coverage and commentary will be broadcast online beginning 90 minutes before launch at

The launch vehicle is an Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket. The Pegasus will be launched from a Lockheed L-1011, named “Stargazer” (below), flying at 40,000 feet. The aircraft has already moved from Vandenberg Air Force base to the Reagan Test Site on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The “Stargazer”, Pegasus and NuSTAR will take off and fly to 40,000 feet. Five seconds after drop the Pegasus will ignite and put NuSTAR into a low Earth orbit

Stargazer with Pegasus XL Landing on the Kwajalein Atoll
Image Credit: Orbital Sciences

Check out the NASA Press Release about the NuSTAR mission.

The short summary:

  • First observatory to focus high energy X-rays
  • 10 times the resolution and 100 times the sensitivity of previous spacecraft
  • Coordinate observations with Chandra X-ray Observatory
  • Use new mirror and detector technology that was developed in NASA’s basic research program
  • Study large and small black holes, near and far
  • Focus high energy X-rays images (see below)
  • Use nested shell mirrors with 133 in each of two optic units
  • Use state of the art detectors and a 10-meter mast that connects the detectors to the nested mirrors

Illustration of the Focusing Power of the NuSTAR X-Ray Observatory
Image Credit: ESA / NASA / JPL-Caltech

Older observations on the upper left versus NuSTAR resolution in the lower right.

Oldest Recorded Supernova Remnant

RCW 86
RCW 86 Supernova Remnant Exploded 1800 Years Ago
Image Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / UCLA

In 185 AD, Chinese astronomers recorded a “guest star”. 1800 years later, astronomers determined that supernova remnant RCW 86, located about 8,000 light years from Earth, was the leftovers from the explosion of that “guest star”.

Seen from Earth, the remnant is larger across than our Moon. This is two to three times larger than expected for a supernova remnant of this age. That mystery has now been solved with new data from the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), as well as previous data from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton Observatory. The findings have been published in the Astrophysical Journal by Brian J. Williams, et. al. Williams is an astronomer at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina.

First, the explosion was a type 1a supernova. X-ray data from Chandra and XMM-Newton showed that the remnant contained a large proportion of iron, typical of a type 1a supernova.

Second, it seems likely that the remnant rapidly expanded into a “cavity” in space, thus greatly exceeding the usual progress of explosion material. The cavity was the result of a stellar wind blown by the late stages of the star prior to it becoming a white dwarf. This is unusual, and normally only seen in core-collapse supernovae (type 1b and 1c).

In the image above, red is associated with the dust in the blast wave of the supernova, dust in the background are yellow and green, and stars are blue.

20 Percent Budget Cut for NASA Planetary Science

Money for the Senate Launch System (SLS) has siphoned off funding for the things that NASA does best – Planetary Science Missions. Examples of these over the past three decades include:

  • Viking I and II Mars Landers looked for life in 1976
  • Galileo was launched in 1989 and plunged into Jupiter’s crushing atmosphere on September of 2003 to protect the possible ocean on the moon Europa.
  • The Ulysses Solar Polar Explorer was launched in 1990 and ceased operation in 2009
  • Mars Global Surveyor photographed Mars from 1997 through 2006.
  • MESSENGER was launched in 2004 and arrived in orbit around Mercury in March 0f 2011 after three flybys.
  • The Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn arrived in 2004 to Study Saturn and the moon Titan. Exploration continues.
  • Phoenix Mars Lander explored the Martian Polar Region in 2008

The money has been saved for the SLS and building rockets, the things for which NASA is worst:

  • X-33 Venture Star – 1996 to 2001 – 1.2 Billion – Canceled
  • DC-X Delta Clipper – 1991 to 1995 – Transferred to NASA – 1996 -Canceled
  • Constellation and Ares I – 2005 to 2010 – 10 Billion – Canceled

The Black Hole in Centaurus A

Centaurus A
Jets Powered by the Black Hole in Centaurus A
Image Credit:
X-ray: NASA/CXC/CfA/R.Kraft et al.
Submillimeter: MPIfR/ESO/APEX/A.Weiss et al.
Optical: ESO/WFI

Centaurus A (NGC 5128), is a radio galaxy about 10-16 million light years from Earth. The image above is a newly released composite view of the powerful jets created by the galaxy’s massive black hole.

The image combined three sets of observations. X-rays (colored blue) from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, submillimeter data (colored orange) from the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope in Chile and visible light data from the Wide Field Imager on the Max-Planck/ESO 2.2 m telescope.

The jet in the upper left extends about 13,000 light years away from the black hole.

Cady Coleman Returns

Cady Coleman
Image Credit: Roscosmos

Cady Coleman returned from 157 days on the International Space Station. The Russian TMA-20 spacecraft undocked from the station’s Rassvet module May 23, 2011, at 2:35 PM Phoenix time (2135 UTC). The crew landed safely at 7:27 PM (0227 UTC) southeast of the town of Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan.

Air Force Colonel Catherine Coleman flew aboard the Soyuz TMA-20 spacecraft to serve as a flight engineer for Expeditions 26 and 27. A veteran of two shuttle missions, Coleman’s last spaceflight was in July 1999 as the lead mission specialist for STS-93 aboard Columbia.

On STS-93, she was responsible for the deployment of the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

Coleman’s first flight was aboard STS-73 Columbia from 20 October to 5 November 1995. The mission focused on materials science, biotechnology, combustion science, the physics of fluids, and numerous scientific experiments housed in the pressurized Spacelab module.

Since 1992, she has been heavily involved with astronaut training during her career at NASA