SpaceX launched a $214 million NASA satellite into orbit to study black holes and dead stars

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A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasts off on December 9, 2021 carrying NASA's Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) spacecraft.
NASA/Kim Shiflett
  • NASA's Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) launched into space early on Thursday morning.
  • The IXPE was launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, NASA said in a statement.
  • It will study high-energy celestial objects such as black holes.
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A NASA satellite designed to examine some of the most fascinating objects in the cosmos, including black holes, was successfully launched into orbit by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, NASA said in a press statement.

The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) observatory is a spacecraft developed by NASA in collaboration with the Italian Space Agency. It carries three telescopes designed to measure the polarisation of X-rays from high-energy celestial objects. These include black holes and the remnants of supernovas.

This means it will be able to probe the physics behind these mysterious objects.

"IXPE is going to show us the violent universe around us — such as exploding stars and the black holes at the centre of galaxies — in ways we've never been able to see it," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA's headquarters in Washington, said in a statement.

The IXPE was launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1am EST on Thursday, NASA said in its statement. CBS reports the IXPE cost $214 million.

SpaceX shared footage on Twitter of the IXPE separating from the Falcon 9 rocket, floating off into orbit

"It is an indescribable feeling to see something you've worked on for decades become real and launch into space," Martin Weisskopf, IXPE's principal investigator at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said in a statement. reported that at a pre-launch press conference, Weisskopf said IXPE's first target will be the Crab Nebula, which is the remnants of a dead star.

The Crab Nebula as imaged by Hubble.
NASA, ESA, J. Hester and A. Loll (Arizona State University)

SpaceX has flown multiple missions for NASA, including two fully crewed astronaut missions to the International Space Station. 

NASA also awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract in April to help the agency return to the moon. The contract was legally challenged by Jeff Bezos' company Blue Origin, but the US Federal Court of Claims ruled against Blue Origin in November.

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