27 August 1998

Faster, Better, Cheaper

After nearly a decade of planning and assembly, the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer satellite has taken the penultimate step toward its scheduled Feb. 18, 1999, launch.

Planned, designed and built by Johns Hopkins University, it was shipped on Aug. 13 from the university's Applied Physics Laboratory, in Laurel, Md., to the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Scientists there will subject the instrument to a series of environmental tests. If all goes as expected, the satellite will be shipped in December to Cape Canaveral, Fla., and be readied for launch in mid-February 1999.

FUSE began as a NASA-managed project in the mid-1980s. But when the budget ballooned to more than $300 million, the space agency sought a way to restructure the project. In 1995, The Johns Hopkins University proposed to NASA a way to build the satellite faster, cheaper and better than previously conceived. Hopkins assured NASA it could bring FUSE to the launchpad for about $100 million and two years earlier than originally planned. And it has.

"[Hopkins professor and FUSE principal investigator] Warren Moos and his team are to be congratulated for their accomplishment," NASA's associate administrator for science, Wesley Huntress, said in 1995 when Hopkins took over the project. "This very difficult effort, which the team succeeded in doing in a very short period of time, involved bringing down the size, complexity and cost of the mission while preserving its essential ultraviolet science."

FUSE was designed to study the origin and evolution of hydrogen and deuterium, the universe's lightest elements, which were created shortly after the Big Bang, and the forces and processes involved in the evolution of galaxies, stars and planetary systems.

It is the first satellite capable of viewing galaxies and faint stars at high resolution in a portion of the spectrum astronomers refer to as far-ultraviolet wavelengths. Those wavelengths are particularly revealing about the characteristics of objects and processes in space. FUSE complements other NASA missions, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, by detecting these far-ultraviolet wavelengths that are invisible to other telescopes, including Hubble. The far ultraviolet region of the spectrum can only be observed from outside the Earth's atmosphere. FUSE will enable astronomers to learn more about the secrets of galaxy evolution and star formation by analyzing clouds of gases between stars in the Milky Way and nearby galaxies.

"FUSE will investigate a fossil nucleus of the universe, deuterium, which was created three minutes after the big bang " Moos said. "Others have investigated this, but these explorations have been like attacking an enemy in a straight line. FUSE will swarm the target from all angles and provide information never before possible.

"It'll be like uncovering a really big piece in a complex jigsaw puzzle," Moos said.

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Picture courtesy and � Johns Hopkins University