Science

SpaceX will launch a new X-ray space telescope for NASA on Thursday. Here’s how to watch live.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – SpaceX is launching a new space observatory for NASA overnight and you can watch the action live online.

The private space flight company will launch the X-ray Imaging Polarimetry (IXPE) Explorer on one of its previously flown Falcon 9 rockets. The frequent flyer is scheduled to take off at 1:00 am EST (0600 GMT) from Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center here in Florida.

You can watch the launch live in the window above and on the Space.com home page, courtesy of SpaceX. Live coverage will begin about 15 minutes before takeoff. You can also watch the launch directly via SpaceX and on YouTube.

Related: Our X-ray Universe – Amazing Photos from NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory

The IXPE satellite will provide astronomers with a new tool to probe the mysteries of the universe. The refrigerator-sized satellite is equipped with three identical telescopes that will be able to study the polarization of light (that is, in which direction light particles are scattered) from cosmic sources such as black holes and neutron stars. With IXPE observations, astronomers will be able to study the structure and mechanisms that fuel these enigmatic cosmic objects.

“IXPE will help us test and refine our current theories about how the universe works,” said Martin Weisskopf, the mission’s principal investigator during a pre-launch briefing on Tuesday (December 7). “We can even discover more interesting theories about these exotic objects than we have come up with.”

Thursday’s flight is SpaceX’s 28th Falcon 9 mission so far in 2021. The flight also marks the second rocket launch from the Cape this week. Early Tuesday morning (December 7), an Atlas V took off from an adjacent launch pad, carrying a mix of payloads into space for the US government.

Related: SpaceX’s Most-flown Falcon 9 Rocket Is Sooty Veteran After 10 Launches

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying NASA's Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) space telescope sits on the launch pad ahead of the flight opportunity on December 9, 2021.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying NASA’s Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) space telescope sits on the launch pad ahead of the flight opportunity on December 9, 2021. (Image credit: NASA / Joel Kowsky)

Thursday’s pre-dawn flight will continue a busy month here on the Space Coast, with up to five rocket launches on the schedule for December. Those launches include four Falcon 9s and an Atlas V from the United Launch Alliance (ULA). So far, two of the five have taken off without a hitch.

To ensure Thursday’s Falcon 9 rocket is ready to fly, SpaceX briefly fired all nine Merlin 1D engines on the rocket’s first stage on Saturday (December 4). The test, called static fire, is a routine part of SpaceX’s pre-launch procedures and helps engineers know that the rocket is ready to fly.

SpaceX later confirmed that everything was ready for launch Thursday morning with a 2.5-hour window.

An illustration of the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) spacecraft, to be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9. (Image credit: NASA)

After the rocket successfully takes the IXPE satellite into space, its first stage will land on SpaceX’s drone ship, “Just read the instructions.”

Meteorologists from the 45th space delta have said there is an 80% chance of favorable conditions for liftoff Thursday morning, with cumulus clouds and thick clouds being the main concerns. If necessary, there is a backup attempt scheduled for Friday, with conditions also at 80% “ready”.

Follow Amy Thompson on Twitter @astrogingersnap. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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