NASA, on Thursday, launched its new X-ray telescope into orbit aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the objective of studying exploding stars, black holes, and other dramatic high-energy phenomena happening around the cosmos. Called IXPE, short for Imaging X-ray Polarization Explorer, the new telescope is a light telescope that will investigate the polarimetry of the most intense events in the cosmos.
The program itself is a small observation program that toes the line between technology demonstration and observation. After lifting off from Florida early this morning, it arrived in Earth’s orbit around the sun.
The Falcon 9 rocket ignited its engines at precisely 1:00 a.m., local time, launching from the Kennedy Space Center with the new NASA telescope.
“Go Falcon 9, go IXPE, a new pair of x-ray eyes to see the mysteries of our skies,” NASA TV launch commentator Derrol Nail said during the live broadcast of the event.
The IXPE telescope, which is about the size of a refrigerator, is part of a $214 million to investigate the physics underlying some of the universe’s most active phenomena, such as black holes and stars in the sky. neutrons.
IXPE will explore strange celestial objects that have eluded scientists.
It is equipped with three identical telescopes to examine the polarization of light (i.e., how cosmic rays fluctuate in respect to the direction of the wave) emitted by some of the universe’s most extreme and enigmatic things.
Astronomers will be able to refine the structure of these types of mysterious cosmic phenomena and explore the processes that drive them thanks to the IXPE’s capabilities.
According to IXPE senior investigator Martin Weisskopf, “what polarization tells us depends on the source,” he stated in a pre-release news briefing on Tuesday.
With its launch, the IXPE will join other NASA X-ray observation satellites, such as the Chandra Space Telescope, which is in a considerably higher orbit than the IXPE. While the IXPE’s mission is focused only on the polarimetry of light, Chandra’s mission is responsible for collecting photographs of x-ray sources across the world.
The Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant, and a pulsar wind nebula in the constellation Taurus will be the initial research targets for NASA’s new X-ray telescope. Because the IXPE is meant to explore very crucial targets, the leftovers of a stellar explosion are an excellent place to begin a mission with the device.
In the Crab Nebula, according to Weisskopf, there is a pulsing beacon-like beam of light, which is really the star that formed the nebula and is responsible for its formation. The polarimetry of the light emitted by this pulsar has been measured before, but not at the degree of precision that the IXPE will be able to attain this time.
According to current standards, IXPE is a small vehicle with a central diameter of 1.1 meters, a side length of 2.7 meters when the solar panels are deployed, and an extendable mast that is slightly longer than 4 meters in length to accommodate the primary barrels of the three polarimetric telescopes on the mission.
At takeoff, IXPE weighed just 325 kg, making it a straw for the massive Falcon 9! The project is also and above all an inexpensive one with a budget of just 160 million dollars for the observatory, not including launch costs. This already seems to be a significant amount, but it is mostly due to the big sensors (a partnership between NASA and the Italian agency, ASI), which are unique in the genre.
This was the 131st total flight of a Falcon 9 and the 28th flight of the year 2021. Two more launches are scheduled before the end of the year to break SpaceX’s previous year record of 26 launches in 2020.
Also noteworthy is that this mission marks the 98th launch sponsored by NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) since the program’s founding in 1998, as well as SpaceX’s fifth LSP launch overall. Furthermore, it is the first LSP launch to be conducted from the historic Pad 39A. “We are thrilled to be able to contribute in even a tiny way to this outstanding research mission,” said Tim Dunn, director of NASA’s Langley Research Center.