The space telescope provided with three important instruments produced in Italy was launched at dawn. He will accomplish studies based on polarimetry in X-rays.
A lot of Italian science is on board the IXPE (Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer) satellite, which was born from the exclusive collaboration between NASA and the Italian Space Agency (ASI). The satellite took off this morning at 7.00 am CET from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. A Falcon 9 carrier from the private company SpaceX was used for the launch, which was attended by the president of ASI, Giorgio Saccoccia, and the NASA administrator, Bill Nelson.
IXPE is the first mission entirely dedicated to the study of the universe through the polarization of X-rays. To do so it will use a completely “made in Italy” technology. Three telescopes with detectors funded by ASI and developed by a team of scientists from the italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) and the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) are installed onboard the IXPE.
The ‘heart’ of the telescopes aboard IXPE is represented by the three Gas Pixel Detectors: new generation detectors that exploit technologies developed over the last 15 years. These novel instruments make use of the skills acquired by INFN in the field of particle physics and by INAF in the study of the Universe in High Energy. Thanks to its innovative technology, not only will IXPE be able to measure the image and energy of celestial sources but also will allow obtaining direct indications on the features of the electromagnetic fields associated with them for the first time.
“NASA and the Italian Space Agency (ASI), the United States and Italy have a long tradition of bilateral cooperation on successful space missions and the IXPE mission represents another virtuous example of the Italian ability to work with international partners for the growth of space activities at a global level. We are also particularly proud of being able to deliver IXPE’s innovative scientific instrumentation on time, despite the challenge of the pandemic: a true demonstration of excellence of the Italian mission team. Now the word goes to science, to new discoveries made possible by our country’s space commitment!”
recalls the president of the Italian Space Agency, Giorgio Saccoccia.
“IXPE will observe the universe in a new light, in the true sense of the word, and what will allow it to do so is its innovative all-Italian technological ‘heart’, the result of a long and important research and development work conducted entirely in-house in our laboratories in the INFN Sections of Pisa and Turin. We must be proud of the start of this mission, even more so in the difficult contingency in which we worked to complete the work within the schedule. I would therefore also like to thank all those who have allowed it,”
underlines Antonio Zoccoli, president of INFN.
“The IXPE mission in collaboration with NASA represents a fundamental milestone that enhances the great tradition of Italian astrophysics in the study of the Universe with X and gamma rays, as already happened with the BeppoSAX, AGILE space missions and participation in Fermi. The high-energy astrophysics community has been waiting for an X-polarimetry instrument for decades. Now Italy is realizing the heart of the IXPE mission and it will be exciting to see the first results. A long-awaited moment that we are sure will not disappoint expectations,”
says Marco Tavani, President of the National Institute of Astrophysics.
The satellite was inserted into a circular equatorial orbit at an altitude of about 600 km with an inclination of only 0.2 degrees. During the first two years of the mission, IXPE will open a new astrophysics ‘window’ by carrying out for the first time highly sensitive polarization measurements from celestial sources emitting in X-rays. The mission’s main targets will be active galactic nuclei (AGN), microquasars, pulsars and pulsars wind nebulae, magnetars, binaries in X-rays, supernova remnants, and galactic center. IXPE will provide contemporary measurements of polarization, variability, spectral and imaging, thus allowing to study geometry and physical processes of radiation emission and acceleration of particles, in environments with extreme magnetic and gravitational fields.
IXPE is a joint NASA and ASI mission, selected by NASA on January 3, 2017, and is part of the SMEX (Small Mission Explorer) space program. Thanks to the contribution of the OHB-I industrial contractor, ASI was able to deliver the flight models to NASA within the established times, as required by participation in the SMEX space programs.
In addition to managing the Italian participation in the IXPE program, ASI provides the ‘Luigi Broglio’ (BSC) space center in Malindi, Kenya as the primary ground station for satellite tracking. The facility is supported by Telespazio and the Space Science Data Center (SSDC) at the headquarters of the Agency in Rome, for the activities of scientific data processing and analysis.
Specifically, the BSC successfully performed two important supports: 1) at 06:00 (UTC) the support to SpaceX – Falcon 9, as part of the collaboration between ASI and SpaceX for TT&C activities (Telemetry, Tracking, and Command) from the BSC; 2) at 06:31 (UTC), after its separation from the Falcon 9 carrier, support for the IXPE satellite, as part of the ASI – NASA collaboration.
The center carried out all the upgrade activities necessary to make the Malindi Ground Station compliant with NASA’s requirements. In addition, it has supported the mission in all phases of pre-launch operations, including the RFCT (Radio Frequency Compatibility Test) at NASA, and will continue support for the acquisition of scientific data throughout the nominal life of the satellite. In order to carry out the activities related to the supply of these services, ASI makes use of its own staff employed at the Rome office and at the BSC, with in addition the industrial support offered by Telespazio within the two contracts for Operations and Maintenance of the BSC of Malindi.