Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array

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The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) is an pathfinder mission that will allow astronomers to study the universe in high energy X-rays. NuSTAR is the first focusing hard X-ray telescope in space. It was launched on 13 June 2012 by a Pegasus XL rocket from the the Kwajalein Atoll.

An artist's concept of NuSTAR. Focusing X-ray optics require long focal lengths--hence the
10-meter deployable mast, which is extended after launch.

Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array Picture

NuSTAR is expected to greatly exceed the performance of the largest ground-based observatories that have observed this region of the electromagnetic spectrum. NuSTAR will also complement astrophysics missions that explore the cosmos in other regions of the spectrum.


X-ray telescopes such as Chandra and XMM-Newton have observed the X-ray universe at low X-ray energy levels. By focusing on higher energy X-rays, NuSTAR will start to answer several fundamental questions about the Universe including:

 - How are black holes distributed through the cosmos?
 - How were heavy elements forged in the explosions of massive stars?
 - What powers the most extreme active galaxies?


NuSTAR's primary science objectives include:

1. Conducting a census for black holes on all scales using wide-field surveys of extragalactic fields and the Galactic center.

2. Mapping radioactive material in young supernova remnants; Studying the birth of the elements and to understand how stars explode.

3. Observing relativistic jets found in the most extreme active galaxies and to understand what powers giant cosmic accelerators.

NuSTAR will also study the origin of cosmic rays and the extreme physics around collapsed stars while responding to targets of opportunity including supernovae and gamma-ray bursts. NuSTAR will perform follow-up observations to discoveries made by Chandra and Spitzer and will team with GLAST, making simultaneous observations which will greatly enhancing GLAST's science return.


The NuSTAR spacecraft was built by Orbital Corporation. It is based on Orbital’s proven LEOStar-2 design. NuSTAR was 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 spacecraft.

Specs and Info:

Spacecraft Launch Mass: 360 kg
Redundancy: Single String
Solar Arrays: 750 W, Articulated
Stabilization: 3-axis stabilized
Orbit: 550 km, 6° inclination
Mission Life: 2 Years


The NuSTAR instrument consists of an array of two co-aligned hard X-ray telescopes. The mirrors focus onto two shielded solid-state detectors, separated by a 10 meter mast that will be extended from the spacecraft after launch. A laser metrology system will monitor the mast alignment. The Cadmium Zinc Telluride (CdZnTe) detectors to be utilized provide excellent spectral resolution and high efficiency without requiring cryogenic operation.


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 February 2003. In response, NuSTAR was submitted to NASA in May, as one of 36 mission proposals vying to be the tenth and eleventh Small Explorer missions. In November, NASA selected NuSTAR and four other proposals for a five-month implementation feasibility study.

In January 2005, NASA selected NuSTAR for flight pending a one-year feasibility study. The program was cancelled in February 2006 as a result of cuts to science in NASA's 2007 budget. On September 21, 2007 it was announced that the program had been restarted, with an expected launch on August 2011
by a Pegasus XL rocket from the the Kwajalein Atoll.

Nustar was launched on June 13, 2012. The launch was the 41st flight of the air-launched Pegasus rocket and the 31st using the XL version.

Did you know?

 * NuSTAR's predecessor, the High Energy Focusing Telescope (HEFT), was a balloon-borne version that carried telescopes and detectors constructed using similar technologies.

 * Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, is the NuSTAR principal investigator.

Related Books:

Astronomy Books:

A User's Guide to the Universe: Surviving the Perils of Black Holes, Time Paradoxes, and Quantum Uncertainty by Dave Goldberg and Jeff Blomquist

Sky & Telescope's Pocket Sky Atlas by Roger W. Sinnott

Nustar Links:

NuSTAR - Home: Caltech
Overview - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory: NuSTAR Mission
HEFT Home Page:
Orbital NuStar:


Picture of Nustar: 10/4/2010

Nustar Picture with description: An artist's concept of NuSTAR. Focusing X-ray optics require long focal lengths--hence the 10-meter deployable mast, which is extended after launch.

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Updated: Tuesday 1st, April, 2014

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