A Look inside NASA's Next X-Ray Observatory [Slide Show]
The NuSTAR satellite will be the first space telescope capable of focusing high-energy x-rays into high-quality imagery--a feat that requires some incredibly intricate optics
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AROUND THE BEND: An engineer at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., examines a thin glass sheet destined for one of NuSTAR's optics. Each piece of glass, akin to the type used in laptop and cell phone screens, starts out flat. Technicians then place each sheet over a quartz mandrel and heat it in an oven (visible toward the left of the image behind the rack) until the glass slumps over its mold. The glass must be curved to form NuSTAR's cylindrical optics.
A TELESCOPING TELESCOPE: At launch, NuSTAR can be no larger than two meters long and one meter in diameter to fit on board a Pegasus rocket. Once it is in orbit, NuSTAR's extendable mast will deploy, folding out to about the length of a school bus with the optics at one end and the detector at the other. Built by aerospace company ATK, the mast represents the telescope's focal length, the distance that the x-rays travel from the optics to the detector.
ATK Space Systems Goleta
CATCHING SOME RAYS: This is one of two hard-x-ray detector units developed at the California Institute of Technology. The detectors will sit on the opposite end of a long extending mast from the optics and will record the images that the optics capture, much like film in a camera records optical light captured by a lens.
INNER SPACE: This shot shows the front of a NuSTAR optic, with the spacers neatly stacked up between each layer of glass. The spacers create tiny gaps through which x-rays will pass once NuSTAR is launched and reaches its low Earth orbit destination next year.
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UNDER PRESSURE: After completing each concentric layer of glass, engineers slide a bar into place, guided by the wheels at either end of the assembly machine, to put pressure on the glass while the epoxy is curing.
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MIRROR IN THE ROUND: One of NuSTAR's two mirrors, or optics, is assembled inside a clean room at Columbia University's Nevis Laboratories in Irvington, N.Y. Each optic will have 133 concentric shells of reflective glass separated by spacers that are held in place by epoxy.
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