Launch Thread: SpaceX to launch NASA’s newest observatory [U: Payload deployment]

NASA‘s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) will launch this week on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Initially, it was assigned to fly on a Northrop Grumman Pegasus rocket, but it was moved to SpaceX to save on launch costs. IXPE’s three identical telescopes will study the polarization of cosmic X-rays. Its mission will be to map out the magnetic fields of black holes, neutron stars, pulsars, supernova remnants, magnetars, quasars, and active galactic nuclei. The total cost of IXPE and its two-year planned mission is $188 million.

Launch Date: Thursday, December 9, 1:00 – 2:30 a.m. EST

Rocket: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 (1061-5)

Payload: NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer

Launch Pad: LC-39A, Kennedy Space Center, Florida

Destination: Low Earth Orbit

Landing Site: Just Read the Instructions, Atlantic Ocean

The Rocket

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is the workhorse of commercial launches into Earth orbit. The partially reusable rocket is powered by nine Merlin engines on the first stage and a single vacuum optimized Merlin on the second stage. The Falcon 9 has launched a total of 130 times with a 98% success rate, making it a highly trusted vehicle among the commercial, scientific, and defense sectors.

The Booster

B1061 made its launch debut in November of 2020, sending SpaceX’s first operational crew mission for NASA to the International Space Station. It then continued to make history by launching Crew-2 six months later, the first time a flight-proven booster launched humans. Since those two historic flights, B1061 has made two more launches – SXM-8 in June and CRS-23 in August.

NASA IXPE launch weather

The newest weather report from Space Launch Delta 45 gives SpaceX a great chance of good launch weather tonight. With a 90% probability of acceptable weather criteria, this is pretty much as good as it gets. Compared to the last report, the main concerns have disappeared, now only having cumulus clouds as a concern.

If tonight doesn’t work out for launching NASA’s IXPE, the weather looks good for the 24-hour delay. Unfortunately, the probability of good weather goes down to 80%, and more clouds will move into the area. However, no additional risks are being reported.

NASA IXPE launch live blog

  • NASA’s IXPE observatory has been deployed from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 second stage.
  • Second stage egnine shutdown two, nominal orbit insertion.
  • Second stage engine start two.
  • This next burn will be unique for IXPE’s near-zero degree inclination. The second stage will burn partly sideways to place IXPE in orbit around Earth’s equator.Second engine shutdown, the second stage will now coast for about 20 minutes until it will circularize the orbit.
  • First stage landing confirmed.
  • First stage landing burn.
  • The first stage is now slowing down to be slower than the speed of sound.
  • First stage entry burn shutdown.
  • First stage entry burn start.
  • Fairing separation confirmed.
  • Second stage engine ignition.
  • First and second stage seperation.
  • MECO: Main engine cut-off.
  • Max-Q, maximum point of aerodynamic pressure on the rocket.
  • Liftoff of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and NASA’s IXPE observatory.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 lifting off with NASA’s IXPE. Credit: Jared Locke/ Space Explored
  • SpaceX launch director is GO for launch.
  • Falcon 9 is in startup, in control of its final countdown.
  • Falcon 9’s second stage has finished loading its RP-1 and liquid oxygen.
  • Falcon 9’s first stage has finish loading its RP-1 and liquid oxygen.
  • SpaceX is attempting to go for the 1:00 a.m. EST launch time. Now that fueling has begun they will only have one shot to launch tonight.
  • Newest weather repot gives SpaceX a >90% probabilty of good launch conditions.
  • Propellent loading has begun on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 with NASA’s IXPE awaiting launch. Credit: Jared Locke/ Space Explored

NASA IXPE launch timeline updates

  • December 6 (L-2 days) weather report:
    • 80% potential GO
    • Low-Moderate upper-level wind shear
    • Low-Moderate booster recovery weather
  • December 5 (L-3 days) weather report:
    • 70% potential GO
    • Low-Moderate booster recovery weather

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