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In search of distant black holes

In search of distant black holes, NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuStar) high-energy X-ray telescope spacecraft is on a mission to map radioactive material in young supernovae remnants studying the origins of cosmic rays and the extreme physics around collapsed stars.

Scheduled to launch June 13, NuStar will peer into space, conducting a census of black holes, and returning unprecedented high-resolution images of the mysterious compact masses. (Editors' note, June 13 at 11:25 a.m. PT: NuStar did indeed launch on schedule.)

NuStar has a 10-meter mast that deploys after launch to separate the optics modules, seen on the right, from the detectors in the focal plane on the left.

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100x better sensitivity, 10x sharper resolution

These two images show NuStar's dramatic capabilities to translate high-energy X-ray light into images.

The image on the left, taken by the European Space Agency's Integral satellite, shows "unresolved," X-ray light, meaning the images are low-res and unable to depict objects with any degree of accuracy useful to science.

The image of the right, however, is a simulated view of the kind of resolution NuStar will provide, able to identify individual black holes with 100 times better sensitivity and 10 times sharper resolution.

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Launch and orbital insertion

This graphic depicts the launch and orbital insertion of the NuStar along with the Pegasus XL rocket.

NuStar is a Small Explorer mission led by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

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Attached to 'Stargazer'

NASA's NuStar is seen mated to the Pegasus XL rocket, and strapped to the belly of the plane, called Stargazer, that will carry the mission to an airborne launch currently scheduled for the morning of June 13.

Updated:Caption:Photo:NASA/Randy Beaudoin, VAFB
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NuSTAR at Orbital Sciences Corporation

Here, the NuStar observatory, including the instrument and spacecraft, is prepped at Orbital Sciences Corp. in Dulles, Va., in January 2012 prior to integration with the Pegasus launch vehicle.

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Unboxing NuSTAR

Unboxing NuStar at Vandenberg Air Force Base, technicians hoist the satellite from its chipping container

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NuSTAR Unloading

Technicians unload NuStar at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

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Wrapping NuSTAR in Its rocket nose cone

Technicians wrap the NuStar in its protective rocket nose cone, which will send it into orbit. After processing of the rocket and spacecraft are complete, they will be flown on the "Stargazer" carrier aircraft from Vandenberg to the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on the Pacific Ocean's Kwajalein Atoll for launch.

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The final steps in mating

Technicians at Vandenberg Air Force Base complete the final steps in mating NuStar and its Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket.

Updated:Caption:Photo:NASA/Randy Beaudoin, VAFB
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Pegasus rocket

The Pegasus rocket will transport the payload into the atmosphere before it launches deeper into space to begin its X-ray observations.

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Set for launch

The Pegasus rocket carrying NuStar can be seen at the belly of its carrier plane, the Stargazer, as it lands on Kwajalein Atoll. The plane is scheduled to lift the rocket to its airborne launch site above the Pacific Ocean on June 13.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Orbital Sciences Corporation
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