NASA's newest space telescope, an ambitious X-ray observatory, was launched into orbit on Wednesday to peer deep into the universe and study the violent regions around black holes.
The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, was launched spaceward at the tip of an Orbital Sciences Pegasus XL rocket, which itself was carried into launch position by a high-altitude L-1011 "Stargazer" jet aircraft. At noon ET, the plane dropped the rocket in midflight, and the booster fired its engines for its climb into the sky.
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"Today was a great day for NuSTAR, a great day for Pegasus, a great day for the entire launch team," Tim Dunn, NASA's assistant launch director, said after the liftoff. "We thank Orbital Sciences for the ride, and we're ready to get into the science portion of the mission."
Blastoff occurred about 117 nautical miles south of the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. Originally scheduled for 11:30 a.m. ET, the launch was delayed 30 minutes to allow technicians to resolve a minor technical issue.
The $165 million NuSTAR observatory is beginning a two-year mission to probe high-energy regions of the universe, including black holes and the remnants of stars that died in supernova explosions. It will use a telescope sensitive to regions of the X-ray spectrum of light that are higher in energy than those seen by any space observatory before it. [Gallery: NASA's Black Hole-Hunting Telescope]