Nasa said that the mission is now one step closer to studying some of the most energetic and mysterious places in the universe.
The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer, dubbed IXPE, opened its boom successfully to begin observing high-energy X-rays in the universe. The development came nearly a week after the mission was launched onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Nasa said that the mission is now one step closer to studying some of the most energetic and mysterious places in the universe in a new way. “For those of us in space game, moving parts are always frightening. Right now, I’m smiling from ear to ear,” Martin Weisskopf, IXPE’s principal investigator, said in a statement after the successful deployment of the boom.
While the deployment came on Thursday night, the spacecraft had separated from the launcher just 33 minutes post liftoff with its solar probe unfurling to begin powering the probe. The spacecraft entered its orbit around Earth’s equator at an altitude of approximately 600 kilometres as mission operators received the first spacecraft telemetry data about 40 minutes after launch.
Nasa said that the observatory has been launched with 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. “Since these were too large to fit into the rocket fairing that flew it into space, IXPE’s boom had to fold up, like origami, into a 12-inch canister and stretch out again in orbit,” Nasa said.
The agency added that with the boom now deployed, mission specialists are ready to focus on commissioning the telescopes and preparing them for the spacecraft’s first science.
Developed jointly 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.
It studies X-rays, a form of high-energy light that originates from places where matter is under extreme conditions: violent collisions, enormous explosions, 10-million-degree temperatures, fast rotations, and strong magnetic fields.