An artist's impression of IXPE. On the right are its three identical X-ray optics elements, the sensors are on the left.
|Mission type||X-ray astronomy satellite|
|Operator||NASA / Italian Space Agency|
|Mission duration||2 years (planned)|
|Launch mass||337 kg |
|Payload mass||170 kg|
|Start of mission|
|Launch date||21 October 2021|
|Rocket||Falcon 9 |
|Launch site||KSC, LC-39A|
|Reference system||Geocentric orbit|
|Regime||Low Earth orbit|
|Perigee altitude||540 km|
|Apogee altitude||540 km|
|Focal length||4 m |
The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer, commonly known as IXPE, is a space observatory with three identical telescopes designed to measure the polarization of cosmic X-rays. The mission will study exotic astronomical objects and permit mapping the magnetic fields of black holes, neutron stars, pulsars, supernova remnants, magnetars, quasars, and active galactic nuclei. The high-energy X-ray radiation from these objects' surrounding environment can be polarized – vibrating in a particular direction. Studying the polarization of X-rays reveals the physics of these objects and can provide insights into the high-temperature environments where they are created.
The IXPE mission was announced on 3 January 2017. It is being developed by NASA's Small Explorer program (SMEX) and is slated for launch on 21 October 2021. The estimated cost of the mission and its two-year operation is US$188 million (the launch cost is US$50.3 million). The goal of the IXPE mission is to expand understanding of high-energy astrophysical processes and sources, in support of NASA's first science objective in astrophysics: "Discover how the universe works". By obtaining X-ray polarimetry and polarimetric imaging of cosmic sources, IXPE addresses two specific science objectives: to determine the radiation processes and detailed properties of specific cosmic X-ray sources or categories of sources; and to explore general relativistic and quantum effects in extreme environments.
During IXPE's two-year mission, it will study targets such as active galactic nuclei, quasars, pulsars, pulsar wind nebulae, magnetars, accreting X-ray binaries, supernova remnants, and the Galactic Center.
The spacecraft is being built by Ball Aerospace. The principal investigator is Martin C. Weisskopf of NASA Marshall Space Flight Center; he is the chief scientist for X-ray astronomy at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and project scientist for the Chandra X-ray Observatory spacecraft.
The IXPE mission is an international collaboration signed on June 2017. The X-ray polarization detectors will be provided by the Italian Space Agency (ASI). Other partners include the University of Colorado Boulder, Stanford University, McGill University in Canada, MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and OHB Italia.
The technical and science objectives include:
|Telescope (x3)||Basic parameters|
|Energy range||2–8 keV|
|Field of view (FOV)||>11′|
The space observatory features three identical telescopes designed to measure the polarization of cosmic X-rays. The polarization sensitive detector was invented and developed by Italian scientists of the Istituto Nazionale di AstroFisica (INAF) and the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN) and was refined over several years.
IXPE's payload is a set of three identical imaging X-ray polarimetry systems mounted on a common optical bench and co-aligned with the pointing axis of the spacecraft. Each system operates independently for redundancy, and comprises a 4-meter focal length mirror module assembly that focuses X-rays onto polarization-sensitive imaging detector developed in Italy. The focal length is achieved using a deployable boom.
The Gas Pixel Detectors (GPD) utilize the anisotropy of the emission direction of photoelectrons produced by polarized photons to gauge with high sensitivity the polarization state of X-rays interacting in a gaseous medium. Position-dependent and energy-dependent polarization maps of such synchrotron-emitting sources will elucidate the magnetic field structure of the X-ray emitting regions. X-ray polarimetric imaging better indicates the magnetic structure in regions of strong electron acceleration. The system is capable to resolve point sources from surrounding nebular emission or from adjacent point sources.