As China advances forward its position in the international communities of spaceflight and astrophysics, it has placed the Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT) “Huiyan” (Insight) into orbit aboard a Long March 4B rocket from Jiuquan Space Center in the Gobi Desert. It’s a completely new type of x-ray telescope, devised because Chinese manufacturing presently does not have the capability to build the super-flat mirror surfaces required for building a traditional reflector-style x-ray telescope. Necessity *is* the mother of invention, after all. As implied by its name, the HXMT Huiyan uses a technique called demodulation that uses much simpler detectors. Chinese scientists particularly hope to use this new instrument to study gamma ray bursts, which have become even more valuable targets now that gravity waves are detectable, as both can be caused by the same events. The international astrophysics community will be able to use HXMT Huiyan’s data in conjunction with that from other X-ray detectors, such as the venerable Chandra X-ray Observatory, NuSTAR, Swift, Fermi, INTEGRAL, HETE-2, XMM Newton, and the upcoming Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer, an instrument package that will be mounted on the exterior of the ISS later this year.
Well, this is shaping up to be a busy week for rocketry!
First, on Tuesday, the fifth Vega rocket from Arianespace blasted off from Kourou in French Guiana, placing ESA’s Sentinel 2a Earth observation satellite into orbit. The spacecraft is designed to monitor optically in conjunction with Sentinel 1a, which monitors via radar, and the data will be made publicly available for the benefit of agriculture, civil planning, environmental studies, and so forth.
Later the same day, Russia launched its latest Persona-1/Kvant reconnaissance satellite from Plesetsk Cosmodrome aboard a Soyuz 2-1B rocket. It’s probably a photoreconnaissance satellite, but of course very little has been acknowledged about the vehicle or its mission. Note: I’m not sure where the audio for this video came from; it may just be generic
And today China unexpectedly launched Gaofen-8, the last in a series of high-resolution (“gao fen” means “high resolution”) Earth observing satellites for the China National Space Administration. I don’t yet have a video of this launch from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center.
Next on deck is Falcon 9, set to deliver the CRS7 Dragon flight to the ISS. Liftoff is presently set for Sunday from Cape Canaveral Air Station, weather permitting, and will include a flyback booster landing test.