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NASA Restarts Telescopic Black Hole Search

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NASA Restarts Telescope Mission to Detect Black Holes


The linked-image press release is reproduced below:

Sept. 21, 2007
Grey Hautaluoma
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-0668
grey.hautaluoma-1@nasa.gov

RELEASE: 07-198

NASA Restarts Telescope Mission to Detect Black Holes


WASHINGTON -- NASA has made a decision to restart an astronomy mission that will have greater capability than any existing instrument for detecting black holes in the local universe.

The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, will expand our understanding of the origins and destinies of stars and galaxies. NASA had stopped the study effort on the NuSTAR mission in 2006 due to funding pressures within the Science Mission Directorate.

"We are very excited to be able restart the NuSTAR mission, which we expect to be launched in 2011," said Alan Stern, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "NuSTAR has more than 500 times the sensitivity of previous instruments that detect black holes. It's a great opportunity for us to explore an important astronomical frontier. We are getting more and more from the science budget we have, and the restart of the highly-valued NuSTAR mission is an example of that."

NuSTAR will bridge a gap between the 2009 launch of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer and the 2013 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. The spacecraft will map areas of the sky in the light of high-energy X-rays and complement astrophysics missions that explore the cosmos in other regions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

"NuSTAR will perform deep observations in hard X-rays to detect black holes of all sizes and other exotic phenomena," said Jon Morse, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters. "It will perform cutting-edge science using advanced technologies and help to provide a balance between small and large missions in the NASA astrophysics portfolio."

NuSTAR is a part of NASA's Explorer Program. The program provides frequent, low-cost access to space for missions with small- to mid-sized spacecraft. NuSTAR originally was selected from proposals submitted in response to an announcement of opportunity in 2003. Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, is the NuSTAR principal investigator.

NASA expects to select three additional Small Explorer missions for flight in the first half of the next decade through a competitive selection within the astrophysics and heliophysics scientific communities.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. manages the NuSTAR mission. The Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., manages the Explorer Program for the Science Mission Directorate. Orbital Sciences Corp., Dulles, Va., is the industry partner for the mission.

For more information about the NuSTAR mission, visit:


For information about NASA's Explorer Program, visit:


For information about NASA and agency programs, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov

- end -

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Source: NASA Press Release 07-198

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Pasadena, Calif. - NASA on Friday resurrected a mission to launch a high-energy X-ray telescope into orbit to conduct a black hole census. The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or Nustar, was canceled last year because of budget constraints. Nustar, now scheduled for launch in 2011, will fly two years before the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the aging Hubble Space Telescope.

Scientists hope information gathered by Nustar will shed light on how black holes are distributed and help predict the fates of galaxies.

Fiona Harrison, principal investigator of the California Institute of Technology says, "It's a great opportunity to find black holes that are hidden to optical telescopes."

Nustar, made up of an array of three X-ray telescopes, is expected to detect black holes with 500 times more sensitivity than current space-based telescopes.

Nustar is part of NASA's Explorer program, which funds small to mid-sized projects. Nustar is expected to cost $105 million.

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Small Explorer Mission to Detect Black Holes Scheduled for 2011 Launch


The California Institute of Technology press release is reproduced below:

September 21 2007

PASADENA, Calif.-- NASA has given the go-ahead to restart an astrophysics mission that will provide a greater capability for using high-energy Xrays to detect black holes than any existing instrument has.

The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, has been designed to answer fundamental questions about the universe, such as: How are black holes distributed through the cosmos? How were the elements of the universe created? What powers the most extreme active galaxies? NuSTAR will expand our ability to understand the origins and to predict the destinies of stars and galaxies.

NASA had cancelled the NuSTAR mission in 2006 due to funding pressures within the Science Mission Directorate, but is now ready to proceed to flight development. Expected launch is 2011.

In November 2003, NuSTAR was one of six proposals selected from 36 submitted to NASA's Explorer Program to fund lower-cost, highly focused, rapid-development scientific spacecraft. Fiona Harrison, professor of physics and astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, is the NuSTAR principal investigator. "It's great that NASA was able to restart the mission," says Harrison. "I'm incredibly excited about our planned science program, as well as the unanticipated things we are bound to discover with a new telescope this sensitive."

Harrison's team has been working on NuSTAR technology for more than 10 years. They began with a balloon payload, the High Energy Focusing Telescope (HEFT). They developed optics and detectors that together could image the universe at X-ray energies above where any mission has operated before. They tested these new technologies on the HEFT balloon experiment, and then compiled them on NuSTAR to make a telescope far more sensitive than any that has observed the high-energy X-ray sky. The mission also incorporates an extendable structure that was developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Alliant Techsystems Inc. for the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission and is now being used to fit the NuSTAR telescope into a small, inexpensive launch vehicle.

"We are very excited to be able restart the NuSTAR mission," says Alan Stern, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "NuSTAR has more than 500 times the sensitivity of previous instruments that detect black holes. It's a great opportunity for us to explore an important astronomical frontier." Both Stern and Harrison point out that instruments like these have become smaller and more efficient, thereby reducing the mission's cost. "It's amazing that by using NASA's smallest mission platform, the Small Explorers, we can build something more capable than large missions that have operated at these energies," says Harrison.

NASA anticipates that NuSTAR will bridge a gap in astrophysics mission flights between the 2009 launch of the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer and the 2013 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. The spacecraft will use high-energy Xrays to map areas of the sky and will complement astrophysics missions that explore the cosmos in other regions of the electromagnetic spectrum.

"NuSTAR will perform deep observations in hard Xrays to detect black holes of all sizes, and other exotic phenomena. It will perform cutting-edge science using advanced technologies and help to provide a balance between small and large missions in the astrophysics portfolio," says Jon Morse, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages the NuSTAR mission. The Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the Explorer Program for the Science Mission Directorate. Orbital Sciences Corporation, Dulles, Virginia, is the industry partner for the mission.

For more information about the NuSTAR mission, visit http://www.nustar.caltech.edu.

### CONTACTS:

Contact: Elisabeth Nadin (626) 395-3631 enadin@caltech.edu

Visit the Caltech Media Relations website at http://pr.caltech.edu/media.

Source: CalTech Press Release

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NASA resurrects NuSTAR mission to image massive black holes


The UC Berkley press release is reproduced below:

By Robert Sanders, Media Relations | 21 September 2007

linked-image
A 10-meter mast separates NuSTAR's three hard X-ray telescopes (left) from the imaging camera (right). The telescope will be built by Caltech and UC Berkeley scientists, launched in 2011 and operated from UC Berkeley mission control.
(Caltech graphic)


BERKELEY – NASA announced today (Friday, Sept. 21) its intent to restart a small scientific satellite mission it had canceled in 2006 because of funding pressures created in part by the shift in the agency's focus to manned missions to the moon and Mars.

Now scheduled for launch in 2011, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) mission consists of an X-ray telescope that focuses high-energy X-rays - called "hard" X-rays - to image the environments of massive black holes at the cores of galaxies. It will be the first focusing hard X-ray telescope in orbit, and will complement the soft X-ray observations of the orbiting Chandra X-ray observatory, which was launched in 1999.

"This instrument opens up a whole new waveband of the electromagnetic spectrum for astronomical observation, and potentially whole new areas of astrophysics," said Steven E. Boggs, a collaborator for the mission and an associate professor of physics at UC Berkeley. "X-ray telescopes such as Chandra have given us a glimpse of what's going on in black holes, but they also tell us that most of the action may be going on at higher energies. NuSTAR will survey black holes in a higher-energy waveband that lets us see where this action is happening."

NuSTAR will be led by principal investigator Fiona Harrison, professor of physics and astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, with critical pieces of the telescope built at UC Berkeley's Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL). UC Berkeley will also serve as mission control from its operations center in the hills behind the campus.

"It's great that NASA was able to restart the mission," Harrison said. "I'm personally incredibly excited about our planned science program, as well as the unanticipated things we are bound to discover with a new telescope this sensitive."

"We are very excited to be able to restart the NuSTAR mission," said Alan Stern, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. "NuSTAR has more than 500 times the sensitivity of previous instruments that detect black holes. It's a great opportunity for us to explore an important astronomical frontier. We are getting more and more from the science budget we have, and the restart of the highly valued NuSTAR mission is an example of that."

Boggs noted that after the cancellation of the NuSTAR mission last year, "the astronomical community was very upset. To bring a mission along that far and then to pull the rug out from under it - many in the astrophysics community were appalled." NuSTAR had been one of six proposals selected in 2003 from 36 submitted to NASA's Explorer Program, which funds lower cost, highly focused, rapid-development scientific spacecraft, and had been meeting its milestones for an anticipated 2007 launch.

With the arrival of Stern this spring, small explorer missions, called SMEX, were back on the table. NASA will invite proposals by January for three new SMEX missions. NuSTAR's resurrection is a bonus, Boggs said.

"This is a very good sign that NASA and Alan Stern are committed to continuing NASA's tradition of performing cutting edge science," he said.

The active nuclei of galaxies are thought to harbor black holes with masses equivalent to millions or billions of suns, Boggs said. As this material swirls into the black hole, it is heated and emits X-rays. By looking at the soft X-ray band, up to 8,000 electron volts (8 keV), Chandra has revealed the roiling environment around these black holes. But much of the energy emitted by black holes is absorbed by the enshrouding gas and dust itself. This matter is more transparent to higher energies, however, which means NuSTAR, observing energies between 8 and 80 keV, can peer deeper into the maelstrom, closer to the event horizon behind which all matter disappears.

Because many black holes may be detectable only in hard X-rays, NuSTAR is expected to find many more as it surveys the sky.

Boggs said that this is the first satellite to use a new generation of focusing mirrors that operates at hard X-ray energies. Space Sciences Laboratory scientists are collaborating with Caltech in the design and fabrication of the focal plane instruments. SSL's highly automated mission control center, which currently operates satellites such as THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms), RHESSI (Reuven Ramaty High-Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager) and FAST (Fast Auroral SnapshoT), will operate NuSTAR as well.

Source: UC Berkley Press Release

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The Orbital press release is reproduced below:

Contact: BarronBeneski, (703) 406-5000, beneski.barron@orbital.com

Orbital Selected As Industry Partner For Scientific Satellite To Detect Black Holes by Caltech/JPL

-- NASAs NuSTAR Spacecraft Planned for Launch in 2011 --

(Dulles, VA 2 October 2007) – Orbital Sciences Corporation (NYSE: ORB) announced today that it has been selected by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to design, manufacture, integrate and test the Nuclear Spectroscopic Array (NuSTAR) scientific satellite. The NuSTAR satellite is part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Small Explorer series of smaller-sized spacecraft designed to carry out highly productive Earth and space science investigations. The astrophysics mission of the NuSTAR observatory is to use high-energy X-rays to detect black holes and other energetic phenomena in the universe. It is scheduled for launch in 2011 and is designed to bridge the gap in astrophysics missions between the 2009 launch of the Wide-field Infrared Surveyor Explorer and the 2013 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope.

“Caltech and JPL’s selection of Orbital as the prime industrial contractor for the NuSTAR spacecraft continues our long and distinguished history of providing NASA with reliable and cost-effective scientific satellites under the Small Explorers program,” stated Mr. Mike Miller, Orbital’s Senior Vice President for Science and Technology Satellite Programs.

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 are black holes distributed throughout the cosmos? How were the elements of the universe 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.

Mr. David Oberg, Orbital’s NuSTAR Program Director, said, “The NuSTAR program will benefit from utilizing Orbital’s proven LEOStar-2 spacecraft bus design. NuSTAR will be the seventh 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.

About Orbital

Orbital develops and manufactures small rockets and space systems for commercial, military and civil government customers. The company’s primary products are satellites and launch vehicles, including low-orbit, geosynchronous-orbit and planetary spacecraft for communications, remote sensing, scientific and defense missions; ground- and air-launched rockets that deliver satellites into orbit; and missile defense systems that are used as interceptor and target vehicles. Orbital also offers space-related technical services to government agencies and develops and builds satellite-based transportation management systems for public transit agencies and private vehicle fleet operators.

More information about Orbital can be found at http://www.orbital.com

# # #

Note: More information about the NuSTAR program can be found at:

http://www.nustar.caltech.edu

Source: Orbital press release

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