The Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR) spacecraft was launched on a Pegasus XL rocket which was dropped from a Lockheed L-1011 "TriStar" aircraft flying over the Pacific Ocean near the Kwajalein Atoll on June 13, 2012, as can be seen in this video. NuSTAR, the first focusing high-energy X-ray telescope in orbit, operates in the band from 3 to 79 keV, extending the sensitivity of focusing far beyond the ~10 keV high-energy cutoff achieved by all previous X-ray-imaging satellites. To attain the required 10m focal length needed for its telescopes, NuSTAR used a unique deployable mast, or boom, that extended the optics after the payload was in orbit.
The observatory consists of two co-aligned grazing-incidence X-ray telescopes pointed at celestial targets by a three-axis stabilized spacecraft. Deployed into a 600 km, near-circular, 6 degree inclination orbit, the observatory has completed commissioning, and is performing consistent with pre-launch expectations. The inherently low background associated with concentrating the X-ray light enables NuSTAR to probe the hard X-ray sky with a more than 100-fold improvement in sensitivity over the collimated or coded mask instruments that have operated in this bandpass.
Using its unprecedented combination of sensitivity and spatial and spectral resolution, NuSTAR is pursuing five primary scientific objectives:
(1) probing obscured active galactic nucleus (AGN) activity out to the peak epoch of galaxy assembly in the universe (at z <~ 2) by surveying selected regions of the sky;
(2) studying the population of hard X-ray-emitting compact objects in the Galaxy by mapping the central regions of the Milky Way;
(3) studying the non-thermal radiation in young supernova remnants, both the hard X-ray continuum and the emission from the radioactive element 44Ti;
(4) observing blazars contemporaneously with ground-based radio, optical, and TeV telescopes, as well as with Fermi and Swift, so as to constrain the structure of AGN jets; and
(5) observing line and continuum emission from core-collapse supernovae in the Local Group, and from nearby Type Ia events, to constrain explosion models.
NuSTAR has an expected orbital lifetime of 10 years. NuSTAR's baseline two-year mission began on 1 August 2012. During this period, NuSTAR has been undertaking a broad program of targeted observations addressing the primary objectives listed above, as well as additional science objectives (see Section 10.6 of the Harrison at al. (2013) paper referenced below), which is being planned and executed by the NuSTAR science team. An extension of the mission including a guest investigator program has been approved by NASA. A call for proposals from the community will be issued by the fall of 2014. The NuSTAR GO Cycle 1 proposal due date will likely be at the end of November 2014, with GO observations starting near the beginning of April 2015. Approximately 6.5 Ms of time will be available for GO proposals in Cycle 1.
Further Information about NuSTAR maintained by the NuSTAR Project at Caltech: