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SpaceX prepares Falcon 9 rocket for test firing ahead of NASA science probe launch – Spaceflight Now


SpaceX is preparing for a static fire test this weekend at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for a December 9 launch with the space agency’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer science mission.

The Falcon 9 rocket test firing is due on Saturday at pad 39A at Florida Spaceport. SpaceX rolled the rocket, without its payload shroud and the IXPE spacecraft, to pad 39A on Friday afternoon and lifted it vertically onto the launch pad overnight.

SpaceX plans to load kerosene and liquid oxygen into the two-stage launcher starting about 35 minutes before the static fire test. The nine Merlin engines at the bottom of the booster will ignite for less than 10 seconds, as the retainers keep the Falcon 9 to the ground.

The static fire test is a regular part of most SpaceX launch campaigns, giving engineers the ability to repeat countdown procedures and verify that ground and rocket systems are ready for launch day. .

Once the static fire is over, SpaceX will lower the Falcon 9 rocket and return it to the hangar a quarter mile south of pad 39A for the attachment of NASA’s IXPE spacecraft.

The fully assembled launcher will return to pad 39A on Tuesday for a 90-minute launch window on Thursday, December 9, opening at 1:00 a.m. EST (06:00 GMT).

The IXPE mission is designed to measure the polarization of high-energy cosmic X-rays, collecting data that will allow astronomers to study the invisible environment around black holes, neutron stars and pulsars, the extremely dense collapsed remains. left by the exploding stars.

Astronomers hope the IXPE will reveal the spin of black holes and bring new discoveries about the extreme magnetic fields around a special type of neutron star called magnetars.

In order to achieve the sensitivity required for x-ray research, the IXPE observatory will host three identical x-ray telescopes which will be extended after launch on a 4-meter (13-foot) boom. Built at the Marshall Space Flight Center, the mirror module assemblies at the end of the boom will focus the x-rays on detectors provided by ASI, the Italian space agency.

The IXPE spacecraft, built by Ball Aerospace, weighs 727 pounds (330 kilograms) at launch, according to a NASA spokesperson.

X-ray polarimetry imaging explorer artist concept. Credit: NASA

The relatively small size and mass of the IXPE observatory is well below the normal capacity of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.

But IXPE will be launched into a single equatorial orbit from Cape Canaveral, requiring significant lateral combustion, or a plane change maneuver, with the top stage of the Falcon 9 before the spacecraft deploys to an altitude of around 335 miles. (540 kilometers).

NASA selected IXPE to become the next in the agency’s Small Explorer range of missions in January 2017. At the time, NASA said the IXPE mission would cost $ 188 million, covering the development of the spacecraft and of its x-ray telescope payload, a launcher, and two years of operation.

In 2019, NASA signed a $ 50.3 million contract with SpaceX to launch the IXPE satellite on a Falcon 9 booster already flown from the Kennedy Space Center.

The orbit along the equator will minimize the X-ray instrument’s exposure to radiation in the South Atlantic Anomaly, the region where the Van Allen Inner Radiation Belt comes closest to the surface of the Earth. Earth.

The IXPE launch will mark the 28th launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket this year, after taking off Thursday evening from the nearby pad 40 of the Cape Canaveral space station with the next batch of Starlink internet satellites.

SpaceX plans to recover the first auxiliary stage after the launch of the IXPE on the “Just Read the Instructions” drone in the Atlantic Ocean east of Florida.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.


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