Elon Musk’s space outfit completed a total of 26 launches in 2020. It eclipsed that mark last week with its 27th blastoff of 2021, and now this latest mission — carrying NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) — will make 28 for the year.
IXPE is an orbiting observatory made up of three space telescopes equipped with special detectors to measure the polarization of cosmic X-rays.
One of NASA’s stated goals is “to probe the origin and destiny of our universe, including the nature of black holes, dark energy, dark matter, and gravity.”
IXPE is designed to examine these fundamental forces, as well as other powerful and weird objects in deep space like active galactic nuclei and microquasars, pulsars and pulsar wind nebulae, magnetars, accreting X-ray binaries, supernova remnants, and the Galactic Center. The mission is a collaboration between NASA and the Italian Space Agency.
IXPE is a long overdue upgrade from the Orbiting Solar Observatory-8 (OSO-8), which was launched all the way back in 1975. While OSO-8 was able to measure the polarization of X-rays, IXPE will do so with modern equipment and much higher sensitivity.
Launch is scheduled for 10 p.m. PT Wednesday (1 a.m. Thursday ET) from Kennedy Space Center. The booster giving IXPE a lift will be flying for the fifth time and is set to land on the droneship Just Read the Instructions, which will be waiting in the Atlantic Ocean.
The entire mission will be broadcast live via NASA TV, with coverage starting 90 minutes before launch. You can follow along right here: