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Space-based telescope begins duty

Zhao Lei
Updated: Jan 31,2018 8:53 AM     China Daily

China’s first space-based X-ray observatory, the Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope, initiated formal operations on Jan 30 after more than seven months of an in-orbit trial run.

Results of the trial run show that the satellite’s devices work well and its capabilities are good. During the period, it played an important role in global efforts to help learn more about gravitational waves, according to a statement published by the China National Space Administration.

The telescope’s operation will enable scientists around the globe to better study the activities of black holes and neutron stars as well as X-ray radiation. The satellite’s devices will also allow engineers to explore ways of using pulsars as benchmarks for a new generation of space navigation technology to possibly be used on future spacecraft, the statement said.

The HXMT, jointly developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and China Academy of Space Technology, was launched in mid-June atop a Long March 4B carrier rocket at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China.

With a weight of nearly 2.5 metric tons, the satellite is expected to be operable at least four years in a low-Earth orbit about 550 kilometers above ground. It carries four scientific devices-three X-ray telescopes and a space environmental detector.

Pan Teng, chief designer of the satellite at the China Academy of Space Technology, said that compared with other nations’ X-ray observatories in space, the Chinese model has a larger detection area, stronger scientific capabilities and a wider field of view.

Zhang Shuangnan, chief scientist of the HXMT program at the Institute of High Energy Physics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said scientists hope that the satellite can help them resolve scientific mysteries such as the evolution of black holes and the strong magnetic fields of neutron stars.

“We hope our telescope can discover more black holes and can help us better observe those already discovered,” he said.

Zhang noted that HXMT is the first step in China’s grand astrophysics program: “Discovering the Extreme Universe”. The multinational program includes three other satellite-based missions-the enhanced X-ray Timing and Polarimetry that is under development and scheduled for launch in 2025, the Hot Universe Baryon Survey in 2030 as well as the Space Cosmic Microwave Background Polarimetry Telescope in 2035.

Before the HXMT, China had launched three science satellites-the Dark Matter Particle Explorer satellite, Shijian 10 Microgravity Experiment satellite and Micius Quantum Experiment satellite.