Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX launches X-ray observatory called IXPE for NASA

SpaceX's Falcon 9 launches NASA's IXPE observatory from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launches NASA’s IXPE observatory from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

A spacecraft with three independent identical space telescopes left Earth atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 on an astrophysics mission for the discovery of extraordinary astronomical objects in our universe.

The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer, IXPE, launched atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 1 a.m. EST (06:00 UTC) Dec. 9, 2021, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Following a roughly eight-minute ascent, IXPE and the second stage reached a parking orbit. After a 20-minute coast phase, the second stage reignited its engine for about 50 seconds to both change the vehicle’s inclination from about 28.5 degrees to zero degrees relative to the equator and circularize the spacecraft’s orbital altitude to roughly 370 miles (600 kilometers). The spacecraft was deployed shortly thereafter.

Costing some $214 million, the 370-pound (170-kilogram) IXPE spacecraft builds on work more than three decades in the making from the launching of NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory project, led by Dr. Martin Weisskopf by taking a “unique step forward by exploring the nature of stars, galaxies, and other celestial bodies in a new way.”

In a collaborative effort between NASA and the Italian Space Agency, the first satellite mission of its kind will measure the polarization of X-rays from multiple sources in order to grant scientists the ability to answer key questions about complex environments homing gravitational, electric and magnetic fields at their unique limits.

Credit: Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

Credit: Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

Video courtesy of NASA

The mission will be jointly controlled by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and Ball Aerospace, which built the spacecraft, located in Broomfield, Colorado.

Spacecraft operations will also receive support from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, will manage the Small Explorers Program, SMEX, developer of this mission, for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Following its use for this launch, the Falcon 9 first stage B1061 landed on SpaceX’s drone ship “Just Read The Instructions,” which was stationed some 385 miles (620 kilometers) downrange in the Atlantic Ocean. This was the fifth time this booster was used.

Also supporting recovery operations was Tug Fin Flagout and SpaceX fleet ship Doug to retrieve the two fairing halves following their deployment and parachute assisted splashdown.

This was the 28th launch for SpaceX in 2021 and the 131st launch of a Falcon 9 rocket since 2010.

Video courtesy of SpaceX


Theresa Cross grew up on the Space Coast. It’s only natural that she would develop a passion for anything “Space” and its exploration. During these formative years, she also discovered that she possessed a talent and love for defining the unique quirks and intricacies that exist in mankind, nature, and machines. Hailing from a family of photographers—including her father and her son, Theresa herself started documenting her world through pictures at a very early age. As an adult, she now exhibits an innate photographic ability to combine what appeals to her heart and her love of technology to deliver a diversified approach to her work and artistic presentations. Theresa has a background in water chemistry, fluid dynamics, and industrial utility.

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