Nasa launched its experimental Fortis (Far-ultraviolet Off Rowland-circle Telescope for Imaging and Spectroscopy) telescope on 28 October from the White Sands missile range in New Mexico.

The flight lasted 15 minutes, reached 162 miles (260km) in altitude, and then fell back to Earth – exactly as planned. Launched using a Black Brant IX sounding rocket, the operation was the latest in a string of Fortis launches designed to test a new technology that allows multiple targets to be studied at the same time.

Known as the Next-Generation Microshutter Array (NGMSA), it consists of an imaging chip that contains 8,125 tiny shutters. Each shutter is about the width of a human hair.

They open and close as needed to focus on specific targets. Fortis studied the way gas is being ejected by exploding stars (supernovae) from galaxy M33.

It targeted the galaxy’s brightest star clusters and supernovae. The data will help astronomers understand the way matter is recycled in the galaxy and incorporated into the next generation of stars.

The Fortis telescope returned to Earth on a parachute and has been recovered. A preliminary analysis showed the data taken was good. A full scientific analysis will now follow.


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