NASA’s newest X-ray observatory – the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer, or IXPE – extended its boom successfully Dec. 15, giving IXPE the ability to see high-energy X-rays. The mission, which launched on Dec. 9, is one step closer to studying some of the most energetic and mysterious places in the universe in a new way.
The IXPE observatory features three identical telescopes, each with a mirror assembly and a polarization-sensitive detector. To focus X-rays, IXPE’s mirrors need to be about 13 feet (4 meters) away from the detectors. That’s too large to fit inside some rocket fairings. So IXPE’s boom had to fold up, like origami, into a 12-inch (0.3-meter) cannister and stretch out again in orbit.
“For those of us in the space game, moving parts are always frightening,” said Martin Weisskopf, IXPE’s principal investigator at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “Right now, I’m smiling from ear to ear.”
With the boom now deployed, mission specialists are ready to focus on commissioning the telescopes, preparing them for the spacecraft’s first science.
A joint effort with the Italian Space Agency, the IXPE observatory is NASA’s first mission dedicated to measuring the polarization of X-rays from the most extreme and mysterious objects in the universe – supernova remnants, supermassive black holes, and dozens of other high-energy objects.
We have signal acquisition, meaning teams are now communicating with NASA’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) spacecraft, as it embarks on its two-year journey to study changes in the polarization of X-ray light through some of the universe’s most extreme sources, including black holes, dead stars known as pulsars, and more.
“Everything has gone smoothly; we just crossed over Africa and acquired signal of the spacecraft,” said NASA Senior Launch Director Omar Baez. “They’ll start exposing the solar rays and doing their deployments, so you can’t ask for any better than that.”
IXPE will now continue on its journey to study changes in the polarization of X-ray light through some of the universe’s most extreme sources, including black holes, dead stars known as pulsars, and more.
3, 2, 1 … LIFTOFF! NASA’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) spacecraft lights up the early morning Florida sky as it roars off the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on the agency’s first dedicated mission to measuring X-ray polarization.
Sandra Connelly, deputy associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters, stated during the mission’s prelaunch media conference: “Understanding our galaxy and our place in the universe is awe inspiring and we want to make sure that we’re inspiring the future generation of our scientists and engineers.”
IXPE is now on its way to play a part in doing just that. Stay right here on the blog, or tune in to NASA Television, the NASA app, or the agency’s website to watch the spacecraft and rocket eclipse more launch milestones.