The Chandra Mission
NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, which was launched and deployed by Space Shuttle Columbia on July 23, 1999, is the most sophisticated X-ray observatory built to date. Chandra is designed to observe X-rays from high-energy regions of the universe, such as the remnants of exploded stars.The Observatory has three major parts: (1) the X-ray telescope, whose mirrors focus X-rays from celestial objects; (2) the science instruments which record the X-rays so that X-ray images can be produced and analyzed; and (3) the spacecraft, which provides the environment necessary for the telescope and the instruments to work.
Chandra's unusual orbit was achieved after deployment by a built-in propulsion system which boosted the observatory to a high Earth orbit. This orbit, which has the shape of an ellipse, takes the spacecraft more than a third of the way to the moon before returning to its closest approach to the earth of 16,000 kilometers (9,942 miles). The time to complete an orbit is 64 hours and 18 minutes. The spacecraft spends 85% of its orbit above the belts of charged particles that surround the Earth. Uninterrupted observations as long as 55 hours are possible and the overall percentage of useful observing time is much greater than for the low earth orbit of a few hundred kilometers used by most satellites.
Chandra's improved sensitivity can make possible more detailed studies of black holes, supernovas, and dark matter and increase our understanding of the origin, evolution, and destiny of the universe.
About the Author
Chandra X-Ray Observatory Center
The Chandra X-ray Observatory, previously known as the Advanced X-ray Astrophysics Facility, is a Flagship-class space telescope launched aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia during STS-93 by NASA on July 23, 1999.