Inside NASA's Cheap, Awesome Folding Telescope

By: 06.13.12

The NuSTAR (Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array) is tiny, by satellite standards. It’ll be about the size of a school bus, when it’s fully opened and extended. It’s designed to find black holes and let us study the universe with more accuracy than ever before. And best of all, by NASA standards, it’s dirt-cheap: $170 million to launch.

So, what does this budget folding satellite do? It uses thin lenses to focus on and look for high-energy X-rays, which you usually find around black holes, exploding stars, and other fun stuff that’s hard to look at. The result is an incredibly sensitive telescope, 100 times more sensitive than anything NASA has in orbit.

That’s important because it’ll let NASA physicists get a much better and clearer look at these phenomena, and the images it collects will be ten times as crisp, to boot. Soon we’ll have a much better understanding of what might be flying through the universe at millions of miles an hour to swallow us up like a cocktail weenie.

Why does it fold, you may be wondering? Two reasons: it’s cheaper to launch it. And also, since these X-rays are so energetic, the distance from lens to “film” is, oh, thirty feet. Yep, NASA doesn’t screw around.

image courtesy NASA

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