(Sen) - NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array "NuSTAR", a high energy X-ray telescope, is being prepared for launch in late March.
Technicians have been working on encasing the telescope in the rocket's fairing (nose cone) in readiness for its launch.
The final preparations are taking place at the Californian processing facility of Orbital Sciences Corporation ("Orbital") which designed and built the telescope for NASA.
NuSTAR will be put into space by an Orbital Pegasus rocket.
The rocket is launched from an Orbital "Stargazer" aircraft (see picture, left) which will carry the rocket underneath to a release altitude of approximately 40,000 ft. The Pegasus rocket then free-falls for about 5 seconds before ignition of its first stage rocket motor.
The launch will originate from Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean.
During its ride to space, the rocket's fairing will split open like a clamshell, exposing NuSTAR before it is carried to its final orbit around Earth.
NuSTAR will be placed in a low-Earth equatorial orbit at an altitude of approximately 550 km above Earth's surface.
NuSTAR is a high energy X-ray space telescope that will study the Sun and search for black holes, map supernova explosions and study the most extreme active galaxies.
It has taken a long time to build NuSTAR because a mirror on an X-ray telescope is much more complicated than a mirror that reflects light in the visible region, as the powerful X-rays must only graze the curved mirror.
Analysis: NuSTAR mirror reflects years of work
The telescope's mirrors are thin and lightweight which has enabled NuSTAR to have a cost efficient launch aboard the Orbital Pegasus rocket.
NuSTAR is a "Small Explorer" mission led by the California Institute of Technology and managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
NuSTAR was designed and built by Orbital Sciences Corporation.
NuSTAR's instrument was built by a consortium including the Californian Institute of Technology (Caltech), NASA JPL, the University of California, Berkeley, Columbia University, New York; NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, the Danish Technical University in Denmark, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and ATK Aerospace Systems.
NuSTAR will be operated by UC Berkeley, with the Italian Space Agency providing its equatorial ground station located at Malindi, Kenya.
NASA's Explorer Program is managed by Goddard. JPL is managed by Caltech for NASA.