A $9 million instrument designed and built at the University of Colorado at Boulder was shipped to Baltimore today for integration into a new NASA ulatraviolet-light gathering satellite now set for launch in October.
The $100 million Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer mission, or FUSE, will study the far UV light emanating from distant stars, galaxies, quasars and interstellar gas and dust, said James Green, principal investigator on the project and a research associate at CU-Boulders Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy. The FUSE mission is being managed by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore as part of NASA's Explorer program. It will launch on an unmanned rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
We finished our spectrograph under budget and on schedule, said John Andrews, CU-Boulders mission manager on the project and CASA research associate. We are elated to be this far along, but we have a lot of work to do in supporting an October launch.
Four telescopes on board the spacecraft will collect and funnel UV light into the spectrograph, which breaks down light like sunbeams passing through a prism, Andrews said. The spectrograph is expected to provide new information on distant space objects, including their temperatures, densities and chemical compositions.
While the far UV region of the electromagnetic spectrum can only be observed outside Earth's atmosphere, FUSE will cover wavelengths not observable with the Hubble Space Telescope. The FUSE spacecraft -- the first long-term mission to study far UV radiation since the Copernicus satellite 25 years ago -- will be able to view light from sources up to three billion light-years distant, about one million times farther away than the Copernicus.
Mission scientists hope to use FUSE to learn more about the evolution of the early universe, the properties of hot gas in the Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds and supernova explosions, said Andrews. They also hope to determine the amounts of primordial gases in comets and planetary atmospheres in order to understand the origin and evolution of our own solar system.
By measuring the ratio of hydrogen to deuterium -- a heavy form of hydrogen thought to have been manufactured only during the Big Bang -- scientists hope to better understand star evolution and infer primordial conditions in the universe during its first few million years of existence, he said.
The researchers also will study large clouds of molecular hydrogen in space for clues to ongoing chemical processes in the star-forming regions of galaxies.
The FUSE spectrograph is a progenitor of the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, a new $25 million spectrograph selected by NASA in August 1997 to be designed by CU-Boulders CASA for the Hubble Space Telescope and built jointly by CU and Ball Aerospace Systems Group of Boulder. It is slated to be installed on HST in 2002.
The international FUSE mission involves scientists from the United States, France and Canada. Warren Moos, chair of the Johns Hopkins Department of Physics and Astronomy, is directing the FUSE mission.
The spectrograph was assembled at CASA's Astrophysics Research Laboratory in the CU Research Park. The FUSE effort has involved 32 CASA students, faculty and engineers, including eight undergraduates.