NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission launched on Thursday at 1 a.m. EST on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The IXPE Observatory, a joint effort with the Italian Space Agency, is NASA’s first mission dedicated to measuring the polarization of X-rays of the most extreme and mysterious objects in the universe – supernova remnants, supermassive black holes and dozens of other high-energy objects.
“IXPE represents another extraordinary first,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington.
He continued: “Together with our partners in Italy and around the world, we have added a new space observatory to our fleet that will shape our understanding of the universe for years to come. Each NASA spacecraft has been carefully chosen to target brand new observations new science, and IXPE will show us the violent universe around us, such as exploding stars and the black holes at the center of galaxies, in ways we’ve never seen before.”
The rocket performed as expected, separating from spacecraft 33 minutes into the flight. About a minute later, the spacecraft deployed its solar panels. IXPE came into orbit around Earth’s equator at an altitude of about 372 miles (600 kilometers). About 40 minutes after launch, mission operators received the first telemetry data from the spacecraft.
“It’s an indescribable feeling to see something you’ve worked on for decades become a reality and launched into space,” said Martin Weisskopf, IXPE principal investigator at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Weisskopf came up with the idea for the spacecraft and has been conducting pioneering experiments in X-ray astronomy since the 1970s. He added: “This is just the beginning for IXPE. We have a lot of work ahead of us. But tonight we celebrate!”
IXPE has three state-of-the-art space telescopes with special polarization sensitive detectors. Polarization is a property of light that contains clues to the environment from which the light originates. The new mission builds on and complements scientific discoveries from other telescopes, including the Chandra X-ray Observatory, NASA’s flagship X-ray telescope. The first light operations are scheduled to begin in January.
NASA Marshall manages the IXPE mission for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate as a project of NASA’s Explorers program. IXPE is an international collaboration between NASA, the Italian space agency, along with partners and providers in 12 other countries. Marshall built the three X-ray telescopes. The Italian space agency contributed to IXPE’s polarization detectors.
Ball Aerospace in Broomfield, Colorado, supplied the spacecraft and manages spacecraft operations at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the Explorers program.
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