At 9 a.m. PDT (noon EDT) on June 13, NASA launched its Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) X-ray telescope into space. Of course, NASA has been launching satellites, space probes and manned missions for many years now, but what makes this launch a bit different is that the rocket was fired from an airborne plane and not from the ground, as is usually the case.
The carrier aircraft took off from the remote horseshoe-shaped Pacific Ocean island of Kwajalein Atoll. After reaching cruising altitude and once the all clear was given the rocket was released from the aircraft, the engine was then fired launching the telescope towards space. Exactly as planned the telescope then separated from the rocket and unfurled its solar panels as it orbited 350 miles (563 kilometers) above the Earth.
NASA decision to air-launch the mission is down to cost; it is cheaper than blasting off from a launch pad.
The NuSTAR telescope will use a Wolter telescope to study high energy X-rays from space, especially in the area of nuclear spectroscopy. Its primary scientific goals are to conduct a deep survey for black holes a billion times more massive than our sun, understand how particles are accelerated to within a fraction of a percent of the speed of light in active galaxies, and understand how the elements are created in the explosions of massive stars by imaging the remains, which are called supernova remnants.