An X-ray instrument will be sent into orbit for a 15-minute trip to analyze supernova remains

A NASA-funded sounding rocket mission is all set to make a short trip to space to test new technologies and collect new information from the remains of an exploded star. The High-Resolution Microcalorimeter X-ray Imaging, or Micro-X, experiment is set to launch on Aug. 21 from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Sounding rockets don't achieve orbit, but instead, send their payloads above the atmosphere for a matter of minutes before they are pulled back to Earth by gravity.

During its brief time in space, Micro-X will collect X-rays to study Cassiopeia A, a massive bubble of material left behind from the supernova that marked the death of a massive star 11,000 light-years away from Earth. Cas A, as it is known, is one of the most studied objects in the sky, but the experiment aims to provide new insights.

Enectali Figueroa-Feliciano, a professor at Northwestern University and principal investigator for the Micro-X mission said, Micro-X has a resolution about 50 times higher than existing orbiting observatories. The X-ray energy spectrum is like a fingerprint revealing the composition, history, and state of the gas and ejecta from the explosion.

As well as its own science objects, Micro-X’s goals also include testing the new detector technologies for future missions that may use them. This could include the European Space Agency-led ATHENA mission, though this could be affected by ESA’s plans to scale back the project to cap costs.

If the flight goes according to plan, Micro-X will descend safely to the ground for recovery.

Figueroa-Feliciano said, this project has the potential to do interesting science over several flights. We’re hoping to get it back, refurbish it, and fly it again.

You can follow the progress of Micro-X through Instagram.

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