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  • Fuse Satellite Marks 5th Anniversary
Jun 2004
BALTIMORE, Md., June 24 -- NASA's far ultraviolet spectroscopic explorer (FUSE) satellite reachd a milestone today: the five-year anniversary of its launch atop a Delta-II rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The 18-foot, 3000-pound satellite continues to operate from its perch nearly 500 miles above the Earth's surface, gathering data about everything from planets and nearby stars to galaxies and quasars billions of light years away. Groundbreaking science done during FUSE's five years in orbit include a first-ever observation of molecular nitrogen outside our solar system, confirmation of a hot gas halo surrounding the Milky Way galaxy and a rare glimpse into molecular hydrogen in the Mars' atmosphere, among other findings. By its fifth anniversary, FUSE has collected more than 47 million seconds of science data on more than 2200 unique objects in the cosmos.

"The sheer magnitude and amount of scientific work that is being produced using FUSE is beyond even what we had imagined," said Warren Moos, FUSE's principal investigator and a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at The Johns Hopkins University's Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. "Scientists working with FUSE have produced a steady flow of papers -- a half dozen a month -- each representing a major scientific study. What has been accomplished is extremely impressive and very satisfying."

Designed and operated by a team of engineers and scientists at Johns Hopkins, FUSE is the largest astrophysics mission NASA has ever handed off to a university to manage. The project also has input from the Canadian and French space agencies. FUSE comprises four telescopes that function as a single instrument, dissecting far-ultraviolet light from distant objects into high-resolution spectographic information used by astronomers from around the world. With more than 10,000 times the sensitivity of its predecessor -- the Copernicus satellite in the 1970s -- FUSE complements the Hubble Space Telescope by observing light at wavelengths too short for that instrument to see.

In late 2001, two of the device's four reaction wheels -- components that point the satellite's telescopes and keep them steady -- stopped working, leaving the mission in peril. Rather than close up shop as some feared, FUSE scientists and engineers devised a solution: using a combination of software and other hardware to mimic the functions of the missing wheels.

"It's been a real roller-coaster ride," said William P. Blair, FUSE's chief of observatory operations and physics and astronomy research professor at Johns Hopkins. "But we've overcome the problems and, if anything, FUSE is now working better than ever."

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