The Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA's newest space telescope, will provide unique and crucial new information about the structure and evolution of our universe.
Named in honor of the Indian-American Nobel Laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, the world's most powerful X-ray telescope will allow researchers to obtain unprecedented X-ray images of objects ranging from comets in our own solar system to quasars at the very edge of the observable universe. The observatory was formerly known as the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility.
From its orbit above Earth's X-ray absorbing atmosphere, it is expected to provide long-sought answers to major scientific questions such as: what and where is the "Dark Matter" in our universe; and what is the powerhouse driving the explosive activity in many distant galaxies?
With its combination of special high-resolution mirrors, accurate alignment, and efficient X-ray detectors, the observatory will have eight times the resolution and 20-to-50 times the sensitivity of any previous X-ray telescope. This is comparable to the resolution required to read the letters of a stop sign 12 miles away. The cylindrical mirrors are the largest of their kind and the smoothest ever created. If the surface of the state of Colorado were relatively as smooth, Pike's Peak would be less than one inch tall. The Chandra X-ray Observatory will join the Hubble Space Telescope and Compton Gamma Ray Observatory to become the third of NASA's Great Observatories.
A High-Resolution Camera on board the Chandra X-ray Observatory will record X-ray images of violent, powerful cosmic events like the death of stars and colliding galaxies, while the observatory's Imaging Spectrometer will record the color or energy of the X-rays.
By separating the colors with two screen-like instruments called diffraction gratings, scientists can recognize the signatures of known elements. This will allow them to determine the composition of the X-ray-generating objects, and learn how the X-rays are produced.
Launched aboard the Space Shuffle Columbia, the Chandra X-ray Observatory will be deployed from the Shuttle's payload bay and boosted into a transfer orbit by an Inertial Upper Stage solid rocket motor. With the attached upper stage, the observatory will be the largest and heaviest payload ever launched by the Space Shuttle. After separation from the upper stage, Chandra's own Integral Propulsion System motors will thrust the observatory into a highly elliptical orbit, ranging from an altitude of about 6,200 miles to 87,000 miles, nearly a third of the way to the Moon. The observatory will be powered by solar arrays generating 2,350 wafts of power.
The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Chandra X-ray Observatory Center will control science and flight operations of the observatory for NASA from two electronically linked facilities - the Operations Control Center and the Science Center - in Cambridge, Mass.
The Operations Control Center will direct the observatory's mission as it orbits Earth. Its control team will interact with the observatory three times each day - sending commands and receiving science and housekeeping information from its recorders. The Science Center will provide user support to researchers, including data processing and a science data archive.
Marshall Space Flight Center manages the observatory program for the Office of Space Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. TRW Space and Electronics Group of Redondo Beach, Calif., is the prime contractor and has assembled and tested the observatory for NASA.