Hopkins Chooses Orbital Sciences Corp. To Build Spacecraft
Planned for a 1998 launch into Earth orbit, the three-year FUSE mission will open a new window on the universe through high resolution, long-term observations in the far ultraviolet range of the spectrum. Astronomers anticipate important new findings about the evolution of galaxies, stars and planetary systems.
Orbital Sciences Corp. (OSC), based in Dulles, Va., will build the FUSE spacecraft primarily at its Space Operations Division in Germantown, Md.
Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., is managing the spacecraft contract. Hopkins has full responsibility for FUSE mission development and operation, under the direction of principal investigator Warren Moos, chairman of the Hopkins Department of Physics and Astronomy. The overall NASA contract is administered by the Explorer Project Office at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
FUSE brings new aerospace activity to Maryland. Five key members of the team are located in the state, Moos said. Besides Johns Hopkins, Orbital Sciences and Goddard Space Flight Center, other Maryland participants include NASA's Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and Swales & Associates Inc., an aerospace engineering firm in Beltsville.
The $37 million contract with OSC is the result of a competitive procurement process mandated by federal guidelines. The FUSE mission was restructured by NASA in 1994 to reduce its cost and accelerate its launch date by two years.
"Orbital Sciences' credible and viable proposal was responsive to the project's needs," said Ted Mueller, FUSE spacecraft manager at APL. "JHU has full confidence in the company's ability to perform."
As part of the innovative restructuring of the mission, FUSE science planning and satellite operations were centralized at Johns Hopkins. The mission control center will be located in the university's Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy on the Homewood campus in Baltimore.
The FUSE instrument -- a high resolution, far-ultraviolet spectrograph designed and built under the direction of Hopkins -- is more sensitive than previously flown instruments. Observations must be conducted from above the Earth's atmosphere, which absorbs radiation in the far ultraviolet wavelengths.
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. 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.
Among other observations that can only be made in the far ultraviolet are those involving molecular hydrogen -- the primary constituent of the cold interstellar medium in which protostars and planets are formed -- and the hot interstellar medium, which occupies about half of the volume of interstellar space. 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.
The FUSE project is an international effort, with contributions from the space agencies of Canada and France. Also participating are the University of Colorado and the University of California at Berkeley.
Hopkins students will help in the testing of the far ultraviolet spectrograph and with mission operations. High school students from Baltimore will also participate in the mission, through a cooperative program with the city school system.
The mission is subject to NASA approval following an intensive review scheduled for October 1995. Orbital Sciences' deadline for delivery of the spacecraft is April 1, 1998. Launch is tentatively set for autumn of 1998 at Cape Canaveral Air Station in Florida.
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