NASA Approves Hopkins Astronomy Mission
The space agency and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., has announced that NASA, after a comprehensive review, issued its approval for the $108 million project.
The Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer (FUSE) satellite will be the first long-term mission to study the far ultraviolet range of the light spectrum since the Copernicus spacecraft, 25 years ago. It will be able to see a million times farther than Copernicus, peering at quasars 3 billion light years away. FUSE is scheduled for launch in the fall of 1998. It will orbit the Earth for three years, opening a new window on the universe through high resolution, long-term observations in the far ultraviolet. Astronomers anticipate important new findings about the early universe, as well as the evolution of galaxies, stars and planetary systems.
The international astronomy mission will involve scientists from the United States, France and Canada. Earlier this year Johns Hopkins awarded a $37 million contract to develop the FUSE spacecraft to Orbital Sciences Corp., based in Dulles, Va. The mission also will include scientists and engineers from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory, the University of Colorado, the University of California, Berkeley, and the Space Telescope Science Institute. Johns Hopkins will be in charge of the NASA-funded space mission, installing an operations and control center in the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy, at the university's Homewood campus in Baltimore. "This mission is unique in that the university is responsible to deliver a complete astronomy mission, both the instrument and the spacecraft, and to operate it after it is launched," said astrophysicist Warren Moos, the project's principal investigator, who chairs the Johns Hopkins Department of Physics and Astronomy. Previously, astronomy missions have typically involved a university-supplied instrument, installed in a NASA spacecraft and operated by NASA throughout the life of the mission. The space agency is now moving toward giving more responsibility to universities and laboratories outside NASA to develop satellites and to operate missions.
Mikulski, who supported funding for the FUSE mission, called the Applied Physics Laboratory and Goddard Space Flight Center "centers of excellence in space science."
"I absolutely believe they will make FUSE the best mission it can be for expanding the knowledge and science surrounding our understanding of the universe," said Mikulski, who is ranking Democrat on the Senate panel that funds NASA and science research.
A critical part of FUSE will be a high resolution spectrograph much more sensitive than previously flown instruments. The University of Colorado will receive a $9 million contract to assemble the spectrograph. It will contain a $7 million detector built at the University of California, Berkeley. The Applied Physics Laboratory will oversee the development of the spacecraft and will assist in the assembly of the instrument and spacecraft.
Astronomical objects from the farthest reaches of the universe to our own solar system reveal details about their composition, velocity, and temperature by the ultraviolet radiation they emit. The FUSE team will pursue a broad range of goals, from observations aimed at learning more about the birth of the universe to studies focusing on the evolution of galaxies, the nature of a star's outer layers and the dynamics of Jupiter's atmosphere. Observations must be conducted from above the Earth's atmosphere, which absorbs radiation at far ultraviolet wavelengths.
One of FUSE's major goals is to determine the abundance in space of deuterium, a signature "fossil nucleus" formed during the cataclysmic creation of the universe. "By measuring deuterium, we should be able to determine conditions in the primordial fireball about three minutes after the Big Bang," Moos said. The overall NASA contract to The Johns Hopkins University will be administered by the Explorer Project Office at Goddard Space Flight Center.
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