Ball Aerospace has completed the spacecraft and payload assembly integration of NASA's Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) space-based astrophysics observatory, the company reported on Friday. With the completion, Ball will start environmental testing of the observatory, including instruments and the spacecraft bus.
"It is truly a pleasure to work with an integrated team that includes government, industry, academia and international partners on a mission that will gather exciting and important science, supported by Ball's commitment to delivering science at any scale," said Dr. Makenzie Lystrup, vice president and general manager, Civil Space, Ball Aerospace.
The observatory has been scheduled to launch in late-2021. Once on orbit, IXPE will measure the polarization of cosmic X-rays. The measurements will enable NASA to improve the understanding of the fundamental physics of extreme objects in the universe, such as black holes.
IXPE is a Small Explorer (SMEX) mission, under NASA's Astrophysics Explorer Program, which is led by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and supported by Ball Aerospace, the Italian Space Agency (ASI), Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at University of Colorado Boulder and other partners.
Under the mission, Ball will deliver the IXPE spacecraft, mechanical and structural elements of the payload, observatory assembly, and integration and test. The spacecraft for IXPE is based on Ball's smallest Ball Configurable Platform (BCP) model.
Previously, Ball developed a similar BCP for NASA's Green Propellant Infusion Mission (GPIM). The company also built two additional BCP small satellites that are currently performing on orbit: STPSat-2 and STPSat-3.
STPSat-2 launched in November 2010, and STPSat-3 launched in November 2013. The two STP satellites were developed for the U.S. Air Force Space Test Program's Standard Interface Vehicle (STP-SIV) project.
"Moving IXPE into environmental testing is an important step gearing up towards launch this year as it ensures the observatory will be able to withstand the effects of the launch into space," Lystrup added.