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NASA launches its first mission examining X-ray polarization

The launch of IXPE. Image: Image: NASA/Joel Kowsky

Edinburgh, 10 December 2021. – NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission launched yesterday on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, NASA reported. The joint project with the Italian Space Agency will examine exploding stars and black holes, among other space objects.

The observatory is going to measure X-ray polarization from supernova remnants, supermassive black holes, and other high-energy objects. IXPE is currently in orbit around Earth’s equator at an altitude of 600 km. Mission operators received the first telemetry data approximately 40 minutes after launch.

IXPE carries three state-of-the-art space telescopes equipped with polarization-sensitive detectors. By examining the polarization of light, scientists will be able to learn more about the environment from which it originates. The mission complements and builds on the discoveries of other telescopes already in operation, including the Chandra X-ray Observatory.

The IXPE mission is managed by NASA Marshall, who also built the three X-ray telescopes. The Italian Space Agency contributed the polarization detectors, while Ball Aerospace provided the spacecraft itself. Ball will be managing spacecraft operations throughout the mission. The observatory is expected to start operations in January.

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