Pioneering NASA Satellite: What Happened With It after 2 Decades in Space?

Pioneering NASA Satellite: What Happened With It after 2 Decades in Space?

After more than 20 years of serving its course on the pace, the satellite caved in on April 30, 2018.

Should we say that the unexpected happened to the pioneering NASA satellite after about 2 decades in space? That would actually not be true, because it is expected that at some point, these space travelling machines would re-enter the earth’s surface.

The Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE) satellite was launched into the space in 1995. It took off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, United States as a property of NASA. The lifting of the satellite was part of a project initially code named XTE. However, in 1996, that is a year after it was launched, NASA decided to change its name. They named it after the deceased Bruno Rossi, who was an MIT astronomer and one of the founding members of the concept of X-ray astronomy and space plasma.


Rossi was actually designed to probe the environments of the black holes and the neutron stars in X-ray wavelengths and offer the information it got about them to the ground monitors. According to Jean Swank, one of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s emeritus astrophysicists, RXTE specialized in the observation of the X-ray phenomenon with a timing that is very precise and clear. By the time NASA officials were interviewed about the efficiency of RXTE, they posited that it actually achieved and exceeded the original goals for which it was designed. Therefore, it has created a huge legacy in the science world. The last time the RXTE relayed an observation to the ground monitors was on the 4th of January 2012, after which it was decommissioned the day after. This is after the spacecraft has succeeded in making numerous amazing scientific observations that contributed to the development of astronomy in the world.

Why Was the RXTE Necessary?

The explosion of a star in a supernova death results in what is known as a neutron star, which is a core of neutrons that are gummed together. These have the capacity to reduce the very large mass of the sun into an object with the size of a single city. When these stars explode, they also drop residues in form of dense and small black holes.

These neutron stars and black holes also have the capacity to magnet some objects from the stars into their own system. When this happens, an accretion disk is formed. The friction that happens during the process will hit the gas in the orbit to millions of degrees in temperature. The temperature will become so hot that X-rays are omitted. These powerful X-rays spring out when the gas goes inside, and can get to the neutron stars and accretion disks. While this is happening, the signals could take just a few seconds if not milliseconds. But when properly captured, this could be used to decode the content of the disk.

It was in 1997 that the RXTE was able to relay the first information about this process that has been predicted in Einstein’s relativity theory. It also justified the results of studies made by two Australian physicists. From the RXTE, scientists learnt that the same form of X-ray activity is also witnessed by the black holes.

Another task that the RXTE accomplished includes provision of evidence and proof that there is another unknown neutron star, which is named Magnetar. The property of this is that it produces magnetic fields that are thousands of times stronger than what the neutron star produces. This in turn is also a trillion times stronger than what is available on the earth. Its entire findings are documented and offered to visitors at the NASA Goddard’s High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center. This and many other scientific facts related to satellites were considered at The NASA Space Apps Challenge supported by Max Polyakov.

What Happened to the RXTE after More Than 20 Years In Space?

After more than 20 years of serving its course on the pace, the satellite caved in on April 30, 2018. After decommissioning and retiring the satellite in 2012, NASA put the time for it to fall to the earth between 2014 and 2023. It would be noted that this was launched before NASA devised any guidelines for satellites to re еnter the earth surface to avoid harming people. So, it had a 1 in 1000 chances of harming people during its reentrance. But this did not happen. Rather, it chose the tropics to re enter and burn out without hurting anyone.




Leah Green

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