NASA gives IXPE observatory the Ctrl-Alt-Del treatment to make it talk sense

Hardware misbehaving in orbit? Time for a reset on the avionics

NASA's Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) space observatory has had a problem, prompting engineers on the ground to hit the reset button.

It's a technique familiar to many engineers when faced with misbehaving hardware and one that IXPE's team has had to use on a previous occasion.

While out in low Earth orbit, IXPE has stopped transmitting valid telemetry data – an issue similar to one encountered in June 2023. The latest problem was noted on March 23 and, thanks to procedures developed last time, the team initiated a spacecraft avionics reset. IXPE then dropped into a safe mode, and the team is working to resume science operations.

According to NASA: "The spacecraft is in good health."

The Register asked the US space agency to learn more about the issue and why it has reoccurred. We will update this piece should the boffins respond.

IXPE was launched on December 9, 2021, and its mission duration was two years. That job has since been extended and is currently set to run through September 2025. It will be evaluated at the next NASA Senior Review of Operating Missions.

The orbiting spacecraft has three identical telescopes and is designed to measure the amount and direction of X-ray light. Scientists hope to use the telescope's data to explain why black holes spin, why pulsars shine brightly in X-rays, and what powers the jets of particles spewed from the region around supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies.

By NASA standards, it is also a relatively inexpensive mission, with a budget coming in at approximately $188 million at launch. The IXPE mission is a collaboration managed by NASA Marshall and includes contributions from the Italian Space Agency.

IXPE is often mentioned in the same breath as Chandra, one of NASA's Great Observatories, and currently facing an uncertain future while lawmakers argue over NASA's budget. Data combined from both spacecraft has yielded discoveries and new findings.

The spacecraft is also not the only game in town when it comes to the study of the polarization of cosmic X-rays. It has been joined by the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) XPoSat, which was launched on a five-year mission in January 2024. ®

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