NASA Successfully Launches Swift Satellite
NASA's Swift satellite successfully launched on 20 November 2004 aboard a Boeing
Delta 2 rocket at 12:16 p.m. EST from Launch Complex 17A at the
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The satellite will pinpoint the
location of distant yet fleeting explosions that appear to
signal the births of black holes.
About 80 minutes after launch, the spacecraft was successfully separated
from the Delta second stage. It has also been confirmed that the
solar arrays are properly deployed.
"It's a thrill that Swift is in orbit. We expect to detect and analyze
more than 100 gamma-ray bursts a year. These are the most powerful
explosions in the universe, and I can't wait to learn more about them,"
said Swift Principal Investigator Dr. Neil Gehrels, at NASA's
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
Each gamma-ray burst is a short-lived event, lasting only a few
milliseconds to a few minutes, never to appear again. They occur
several times daily somewhere in the universe, and Swift should detect
Swift, a mission with international participation, was designed to solve
the 35-year-old mystery of the origin of gamma-ray bursts. Scientists
think that the bursts are related to the formation of black holes
throughout the universe - the birth cries of black holes.
To track these mysterious bursts, Swift carries a suite of three main
instruments. The Burst Alert Telescope (BAT) instrument
will detect and locate about two gamma-ray bursts weekly, relaying a
rough position to the ground within 20 seconds. The satellite will
swiftly re-point itself to bring the burst area into the narrower fields
of view of the on-board X-ray Telescope (XRT) and the
UltraViolet/Optical Telescope (UVOT). These telescopes study the
afterglow of the burst produced by the cooling ashes that remain
from the original explosion.
The XRT and UVOT instruments will determine a precise arc-second
position of the burst and measure the spectrum of its afterglow
from visible to X-ray wavelengths. For most of the bursts detected, Swift
data, combined with complementary observations conducted with
ground-based telescopes, will enable measurements of the distances to the
The afterglow phenomenon can linger in X-ray light, optical light, and
radio waves for hours to weeks, providing detailed information about the
burst. Swift will check in on bursts regularly to study the fading
afterglow, as will ground-based optical and radio telescopes. The crucial
link is having a precise location to direct other telescopes. Swift will
provide extremely precise positions for bursts in a matter of minutes.
Swift notifies the astronomical community via the Goddard-maintained
Gamma-ray Burst Coordinates Network. The Swift Mission Operations Center,
operated from Penn State's University Park, Pa., campus, controls the
Swift observatory and provides continuous burst information.
"Swift can respond almost instantly to any astrophysical phenomenon, and
I suspect that we're going to be making many discoveries which are
currently unpredicted," said Swift Mission Director John Nousek, Penn
State professor of astronomy and astrophysics.
Goddard manages Swift. Swift is a NASA mission with the participation of
the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the Particle Physics and Astronomy
Research Council in the United Kingdom.
Swift was built through collaboration with national laboratories,
universities and international partners, including General Dynamics,
Gilbert, Arizona; Penn State University; Los Alamos National Laboratory,
New Mexico; Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, Calif.; Mullard Space
Science Laboratory in Dorking, Surrey, England; the University of
ASI-Malindi ground station in Africa; the ASI Science Data Center in
Italy; and the Brera Observatory in Milan, Italy.