Spacecraft, Rocket Come Together for IXPE Mission

IXPE spacecraft encapsulation
NASA’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) spacecraft and nose fairing are brought together for encapsulation inside SpaceX’s Payload Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 2, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

NASA’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) spacecraft recently eclipsed multiple key milestones at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Following a series of “aliveness” tests to verify the health of the spacecraft, teams mated the structure to the payload adapter – a ring that interfaces between the spacecraft and the top of the rocket. Next, multi-layer insulation was installed to provide thermal protection for the spacecraft in space.

After items such as optic and sensitive instrument covers were removed, the nose fairing and the spacecraft were brought together, signaling a major achievement in the mission: encapsulation.

“This is when you mate the spacecraft to the rocket, so it’s the two halves coming together,” said Brett Perkins, launch site integration manager for NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy. “There are several critical lifting operations of the spacecraft. You have to be very careful and methodical; a lot of hardware comes together during this timeframe.”

The mission is scheduled to launch no earlier than Thursday, Dec. 9, at 1 a.m. EST, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. IXPE is the first satellite dedicated to measuring the polarization of X-rays from a variety of cosmic sources, such as black holes and neutron stars.

“IXPE is filling a data gap in polarized X-rays, which we don’t have a lot of information on,” Perkins said. “This mission is a small part of a bigger picture – a bigger effort – to learn more about the universe and how it works.”

On Tuesday, Dec. 7, NASA will hold an IXPE payload briefing at 1 p.m. and a prelaunch news briefing at 5:30 p.m. Live launch coverage will begin Dec. 9 at 12:30 a.m. All will be broadcast on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website.

IXPE Undergoing Final Processing in Preparation for Spacecraft Mate

IXPE spacecraft arrives at Kennedy Space Center
Teams at Kennedy Space Center are doing final checkouts and testing on the Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) spacecraft. The mission is scheduled to launch no earlier than Thursday, Dec. 9, at 1 a.m. EST, from the Florida spaceport. Photo credit: NASA/Isaac Watson

Weeks of work are paying off for engineers and technicians from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida who have been preparing the agency’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) spacecraft since its arrival by truck from Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado, to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Nov. 5, 2021.

Important activities continue inside SpaceX’s Payload Processing Facility in advance of the next major milestone – mating the spacecraft to the launch vehicle.

“We’ve been doing final checkouts and testing on IXPE prior to mating activities,” said Jake Shriver, mission integration engineer for NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP), based at Kennedy.

IXPE is targeted to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A on Dec. 9, at 1 a.m. EST. The mission is NASA’s first dedicated to measuring X-ray polarization. The launch is managed by LSP.

Following mating of the spacecraft to the launch vehicle will be encapsulation, where the fairing halves come together around the spacecraft. A couple of days before launch, the encapsulated assembly will roll out to the pad to be mated to the first- and second-stage rocket boosters.

IXPE will 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. Polarization contains clues that helps scientists better understand these mysterious phenomena.

“I can’t wait for IXPE to get into space and start returning science data,” Shriver said. “The mission is going to do amazing things for the astrophysics and science communities.”

Watch IXPE Prelaunch Activities, Launch on NASA TV

NASA's IXPE mission
IXPE is scheduled to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A no earlier than 1 a.m. EST on Dec. 9, 2021. Credit: NASA

NASA will provide coverage of the prelaunch and launch activities for the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission, scheduled to lift off no earlier than 1 a.m. EST Thursday, Dec. 9, on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s Launch Services Program based at Kennedy is managing the launch.

IXPE is the first satellite dedicated to measuring the polarization of X-rays from a variety of cosmic sources, such as black holes and neutron stars.

Live launch coverage will begin at 12:30 a.m. on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website. On Tuesday, Dec. 7, NASA will hold a payload briefing at 1 p.m. and a prelaunch news briefing at 5:30 p.m.

Click here to view the complete mission coverage.

NASA’s IXPE Spacecraft Arrives in Florida Ahead of Kennedy Launch

NASA’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) spacecraft arrives at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Nov. 5, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Isaac Watson

The Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) spacecraft, which will study the polarization of X-rays coming to us from some of the universe’s most extreme sources – including black holes and dead stars known as pulsars – arrived at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Nov. 5, 2021.

NASA’s first mission dedicated to measuring X-ray polarization, IXPE is scheduled to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicle from Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A on Dec. 9, 2021. The launch is managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy.

IXPE is scheduled to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicle from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A on Dec. 9, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Isaac Watson

Final prelaunch testing of IXPE began on Monday, Nov. 8. The spacecraft is expected to be mated to the launch vehicle during the last week of November.

IXPE will fly three space telescopes with sensitive detectors capable of measuring the polarization of cosmic X-rays, allowing scientists to answer fundamental questions about these extremely complex environments where gravitational, electric, and magnetic fields are at their limits.

NASA selected IXPE as an Explorers Program mission in 2017. The IXPE project is a collaboration between NASA and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the IXPE mission. Ball Aerospace, headquartered in Broomfield, Colorado, manages spacecraft operations with support from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the Explorers Program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Click here for more information on the IXPE mission.

Crew Dragon Arrives at Launch Pad Ahead of Crew-3 Launch

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands at Launch Complex 39A in Florida ahead of the Crew-3 launch.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is seen on the launch pad at Launch Complex 39A on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, as preparations continue for the Crew-3 mission at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, with the Crew Dragon spacecraft atop, rolled out to the launch pad last night, Oct. 26, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 launch. The rocket is now in a vertical position at Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39A, awaiting liftoff on Sunday, Oct. 31.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with Crew Dragon rolls out to Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the Crew-3 launch.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with Crew Dragon rolls out to Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida in the early morning hours of Oct. 27, 2021 for NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission. Photo credit: SpaceX

The mission will carry NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, as well as ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer, to the International Space Station for a six-month stay. Launch is scheduled for 2:21 a.m. EDT, and the crew is expected to arrive at the orbiting laboratory about 22 hours later, at 12:10 a.m. EDT on Monday, Nov.1.

Upon their arrival, the Crew-3 astronauts will have a short overlap with NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, who flew to the station as part of the agency’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission in April 2021. Crew-2 astronauts are scheduled to return to Earth in early November.

The mission will fly a new Crew Dragon spacecraft, which crew members have named Endurance, and will be the first to fly a previously used nosecone. In support of Crew-3, SpaceX implemented several improvements to the Crew Dragon system based on knowledge gained from previous flights, including making a software change to build in more communications robustness against radiation effects while docked, adding more cleaning techniques to cut down on foreign object debris, improving computer performance during re-entry, and enhancing the spacecraft’s docking procedures and mechanisms to mitigate hardware interference on the space station side of the interface.

Tomorrow, Oct. 28, the Crew-3 astronauts and launch teams will conduct a full dress rehearsal in preparation for launch. Find out what that entails in the video below.

Media Invited to Launch of NASA’s IXPE Mission

Media is invited to view the launch of NASA’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), the first satellite mission dedicated to measuring the polarization of X-rays from a variety of cosmic sources.

IXPE is scheduled to launch
Dec. 9, 2021, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicle from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida. It is NASA’s first mission dedicated to measuring X-ray polarization.

Click here for credentialing information and to read the full media advisory.

NASA’s IXPE Spacecraft to Launch Dec. 9

Artist rendition of NASA's IXPE
An artist’s rendition of NASA’s Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), which is targeted to launch from Kennedy Space Center on Dec. 9, 2021.

NASA’s newest X-ray astronomy mission, Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), is scheduled to launch Dec. 9, 2021. IXPE will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicle from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in Florida. The launch is managed by NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy.

IXPE will 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. Polarization contains clues to what those environments are like and helps scientists better understand these mysterious phenomena.

IXPE is NASA’s first mission dedicated to measuring X-ray polarization.

NASA selected IXPE as a Small Explorer mission in 2017. The IXPE project is a collaboration between NASA and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama manages the IXPE mission. Ball Aerospace, headquartered in Broomfield, Colorado, manages spacecraft operations with support from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the Explorers Program for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Houston, We Have a Pepper

Four chile pepper plants growing aboard the International Space Station in the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) bore fruit. Photo credit: NASA

Recently, the four chile pepper plants growing aboard the International Space Station in the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) bore fruit – several peppers, in fact.

Peppers developed from flowers that bloomed in the Advanced Plant Habitat on the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA

The peppers developed from flowers that bloomed over the past few weeks. Peppers are self-pollinating, and once pollination occurred, peppers started forming 24 to 48 hours later; however, not all pollinated flowers developed into peppers.

A unique feature of the APH is that it can be controlled remotely. To pollinate the flowers in orbit, the team at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center instructed APH to run its fans at variable rates to create a gentle breeze in microgravity to agitate the flowers and encourage the transfer of pollen. The space station crew also provided assistance by hand pollinating some of the flowers.

GMT273_12_13_For Huntsville_Megan McArthur_1091_Plant Habitat 04

Studies of fruit development in microgravity are limited, and NASA researchers have noted lower fruit development versus ground observations in this experiment for reasons that are not fully understood at this point. Overcoming the challenges of growing fruit in microgravity is important for long-duration missions during which crew members will need good sources of Vitamin C – such as peppers – to supplement their diets.

The average length for this type of pepper is just over three inches in ground tests. Hatch chile peppers are a mild heat pepper that starts out as green and will ripen to red over time, but it’s unknown what effect microgravity will have on the length to which they grow and their potency.

Astronauts will perform two harvests this year – one at 100 days in late October, and one at 120 days in early November. At those times, astronauts will sanitize the peppers, eat part of their harvests, and return the rest to Earth for analysis.

Cargo Dragon Splashes Down in the Atlantic, Science Delivered to Kennedy

SpaceX Cargo Dragon spacecraft
SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon spacecraft is lifted aboard a recovery vessel after splashing down off the coast of Florida on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. The capsule, carrying cargo that flew aboard NASA’s SpaceX 23rd commercial resupply services mission, undocked from the International Space Station Thursday at approximately 9 a.m. The event marked the first time a Cargo Dragon splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo credit: SpaceX

SpaceX’s Cargo Dragon spacecraft completed a successful parachute-assisted splashdown off the coast of Florida around 11 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Sept. 30. The capsule undocked from the station’s forward port of the Harmony module Thursday at 9:12 a.m., completing the voyage in approximately 14 hours.

This marked the first time Cargo Dragon splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. The proximity to the coast of Florida enabled quick transportation of the science aboard the capsule to NASA Kennedy Space Center’s Space Station Processing Facility, delivering some science back into the hands of the researchers hours after splashdown. The shorter transportation timeframe allows researchers to collect data with minimal loss of microgravity effects.

Dragon launched Aug. 29 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy, arriving at the station the following day. The spacecraft delivered more than 4,800 pounds of research investigations, crew supplies, and vehicle hardware to the orbiting outpost.

Learn more about station activities by following the space station blog, on Twitter @Space_Station and @ISS_Research, as well as the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

MLP-2 Demolition Creates Opportunities for Artemis Missions

Moblie launcher platform 2
At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a truck sprays water along the crawlerway to reduce dust ahead of the crawler-transporter moving the mobile launcher platform 2 (MLP-2) from Launch Pad 39A to a nearby park site in Launch Complex 39. MLP-2 was demolished, making way for newer, more advanced technology to be used in NASA’s Artemis missions. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

By Jim Cawley
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center

The mobile launcher platform 2, or MLP-2, served NASA well, as it was used for more than 50 Apollo and space shuttle missions at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center from 1968 to 2011.

A nine-month demolition project for the 25-foot high, 160-foot long, and 135-foot-wide platform, which weighed 9.1 million pounds, was completed last month. Though MLP-2 was a historic piece of equipment, its removal makes way for newer, more advanced technology at the Florida spaceport.

Mobile launcher platform 2 demolition project
The two mobile launcher platforms are seen at the park site at Kennedy Space Center on Jan. 4, 2021. A nine-month demolition project for Mobile launcher platform 2, which used during the shuttle program, was recently completed. NASA/Kim Shiflett

“It was bittersweet having to dismantle MLP-2,” said John Giles, Exploration Ground Systems crawler transporter operations manager. “However, it allows us to make room for newer, more advanced assets to support Artemis missions that will return humans to the Moon and beyond.”

Mobile launcher platforms were used for shuttle missions lifting off from Launch Complex 39A and 39B. These structures did not require a tower since the launch pad had a tower and rotating service structure to allow access to the vehicle.

Since the retirement of the shuttle program, the historic Launch Complex 39A, once the site of Apollo and Saturn V missions, was leased to SpaceX and upgraded to support commercial launches carrying cargo and astronauts into space.

Launch Complex 39B also has changed with the times. It began as an Apollo era structure, was converted for shuttle launches, and now is a clean pad ready to support the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, carrying the Orion spacecraft as the agency returns to the Moon. When SLS lifts off from pad 39B carrying Orion for the Artemis I mission, it will use the new, advanced mobile launcher that comes with a built-in tower.

Click here to watch a time-lapse video of the MLP-2 demolition.