IXPE’s Mirror Module Assembly (MMA) Delivered to Ball Aerospace

September 3, 2020: The IXPE MMA team successfully completed a pre-ship review for all three flight MMAs. Each MMA has a 4-m focal length, focusing x rays onto a corresponding polarization-sensitive detector (provided by the Italian space agency). The telescope system (mirrors and detectors) is optimized for polarimetry at 2-8 keV. The mirror assemblies left MSFC in Huntsville, Alabama the afternoon of Wednesday Sept 9th, arriving at Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado on Thursday September 10th, where they will be integrated into the spacecraft. Normally the MSFC MMA team would help unpack and inspect the mirror modules post shipment. However, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, the MMA team provided Ball with written procedures and a video showing post-shipment inspection. With the completion of environmental testing and x-ray calibration of the flight MMAs at MSFC and shipment to Ball, the IXPE team is progressing toward meeting critical mission milestones leading to a launch in 2021 autumn.
Image: IXPE Mirror Module Assembly unpacked and ready for spacecraft integration
One of the MMAs after delivery to Ball Aerospace, showing its top thermal shield (provided by Nagoya University, Japan), underneath the three “arms” of the handling fixture. The thermal shield and another at the opposite end of the MMA, in combination with heaters and insulation (not shown), will provide a stable thermal environment for the x-ray optics in orbit.

IXPE launch to be Delayed

August 11, 2020 (updated from July 7, 2020): There have been multiple effects of the Covid-19 pandemic including delays and cancellations of events, and IXPE is not immune. To mitigate the risk of spreading the virus at Marshall Space Flight Center where fabrication and testing of IXPE mirrors have been taking place, work stopped for approximately three months (March through June). This work delay postpones the launch of IXPE from May 2021 until Fall 2021.
Operating on a slightly different Covid-19 avoidance schedule, the Italian Space Agency (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana - ASI) has been able to continue calibrating the IXPE detectors, mostly remotely, with extremely limited on-site work. As a result, colleagues at ASI have shipped the entire flight instrument to the United States for integration into the IXPE payload at Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado. For more details, see the two news stories that appeared on non-NASA sites: 2 July 2020 and 6 August 2020.

IXPE Detector Unit Two

February 27, 2020: Detector unit two for the Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) was transferred by the Italian Space Agency (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana - ASI) to the IXPE project at Marshall Space Flight Center. ASI's Italian Instrument Team temporarily operating at Marshall, completed modifications to Detector Unit 2 (DU2), a highly specialized unit that determines the polarization of incident X-rays. The DU2 then successfully withstood a vibration test. The Italian DU2 is flight hardware contributed for use by the Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) Project. With the completion of this activity, and successful reduced-functional tests at MSFC, DU2 property custody was transferred from the Italian Space Agency (ASI) to IXPE (NASA). The DU2 will now be calibrated with the X-ray mirror assembly.

IXPE Launch Vehicle Selected

On July 8, 2019, NASA announced that SpaceX of Hawthorne, California will provide launch services for IXPE. The launch is targeted for April 2021 on a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. For the full press release, click HERE .

IXPE Passed!

The week of June 24 the IXPE mission successfully passed the Mission Critical Design Review (M-CDR).

X-ray Optics in the News

Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, appearing before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology on April 26, 2017, mentioned grazing incidence X-ray mirrors being developed at Marshall Space Flight Center. Dr. Zurbuchen's remarks may be found HERE, at approximately 1 hour 21 minutes.

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