January 13, 2017

CU Boulder tapped by NASA for black holes mission

Charlie Brennan
Daily Camera

The University of Colorado has been tapped by NASA to operate an upcoming mission to probe aspects of some of the most extreme and unusual astronomical objects, such as stellar and supermassive black holes, neutron stars and pulsars.

CU's involvement will give the university's professionals and students an opportunity to perform mission operations under a contract with Boulder's Ball Aerospace, which is providing the spacecraft and mission integration.

The NASA Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer mission will fly a trio of space telescopes equipped with cameras capable of measuring the polarization of cosmic X-rays. That will enable astronomers to answer fundamental questions about turbulent environments such as black holes, that can heat surrounding gases to more than a million degrees, causing high-energy emissions in the X-ray portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, according to a news release.

Students and professionals will operate the IXPE spacecraft from the LASP Space Technology Building on CU's East Campus, according to Bill Possel, director of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics Mission Operations and Data Systems division.

"We're very excited to be part of this new mission," Possel said in a prepared statement. "Ball Aerospace is a fantastic partner and we have a long history of working mission operations for their NASA missions. Our students will play a major role in developing the operations procedures and eventually performing operations once the spacecraft is in orbit."