SpaceX launched NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission last night. A four-times-flown Falcon 9 rocket lifted off a fifth time to propel the NASA IXPE spacecraft to a circular equatorial orbit from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Launch Pad-39A at 1:00 a.m. EST on December 9. The IXPE observatory is designed to study cosmic X-rays to unveil mysteries about the Universe. The mission is a joint project between the Italian Space Agency and NASA. The spacecraft is equipped with three powerful mirrored telescopes to measure “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,” the agency said.
Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/v9VAb8UITL— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 9, 2021
“IXPE represents another extraordinary first,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Together with our partners in Italy and around the world, we’ve added a new space observatory to our fleet that will shape our understanding of the universe for years to come. Each NASA spacecraft is carefully chosen to target brand new observations enabling new science, and IXPE is going to 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 been able to see it.”
The rocket that supported the IXPE launch is identified as B1067-5; It previously launched a pair of SpaceX crewed missions, Crew-1 & Crew-2, that launched NASA astronauts to the International Space Station. The booster also deployed Sirius SXM-8 satellite to orbit, as well as a Cargo Dragon spacecraft for SpaceX’s 23rd NASA Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-23) mission to the Space Station. Approximately 9-minutes after liftoff, B1067-5 reentered Earth’s atmosphere a fifth time and landed on the ‘Just Read the Instructions’ autonomous droneship which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. It marked the 97th recovery of an orbital-class rocket booster. SpaceX is currently the only company in the world capable of safely and reliably reuse a rocket’s first-stage. The company plans to reuse each booster in its fleet at least ten times to significantly decrease the cost of spaceflight.
Falcon 9’s first stage booster has landed on the Just Read the Instructions droneship— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 9, 2021
Approximately 33-minutes after liftoff, Falcon 9’s upper-stage released the IXPE spacecraft into a circular equatorial orbit. The spacecraft is around the size of a large refrigerator, it unfurled its solar arrays to operate along Earth’s equator at an altitude of approximately 372 miles (600 kilometers). About 40 minutes after launch, NASA IXPE mission operators received the first telemetry data from the spacecraft. “It is an indescribable feeling to see something you’ve worked on for decades become real and launch into space,” said Martin Weisskopf, IXPE’s principal investigator at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Weisskopf came up with the idea to design the IXPE spacecraft, they have an extensive career with in X-ray astronomy since the 1970s. “This is just the beginning for IXPE. We have much work ahead. But tonight, we celebrate!” If you missed watching the Live broadcast last night, you can watch a recording of the SpaceX IXPE launch in the video linked below.
Deployment of IXPE confirmed pic.twitter.com/Gqx52tUf2O— SpaceX (@SpaceX) December 9, 2021
VIDEO: SpaceX NASA IXPE Mission
Featured Image Source: SpaceX
About the Author
Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.