China's first astronomical satellite, an x-ray telescope that will search the sky for black holes, neutron stars, and other extremely energetic phenomena, raced into orbit [June 15th] after a morning launch from the Gobi Desert.
The 2.5-ton Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT), dubbed Insight according to the official Xinhua news agency, was carried aloft by a Long March-4B rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The newest of several x-ray telescope in space, the HXMT will observe some of the most turbulent processes in the universe. The x-rays generated by those events cannot penetrate Earth's atmosphere; they can only be observed by instruments mounted on high-altitude balloons or satellites. The HXMT carries three x-ray telescopes observing at energies ranging from 20 to 200 kilo-electron volts as well as an instrument to monitor the space environment, according to its designers [ihep.ac.cn]. While orbiting 550 kilometers above the planet, the HXMT will perform an all-sky survey that is expected to discover a thousand new x-ray sources. Over an expected operating lifetime of 4 years, it will also conduct focused observations of black holes, neutron stars, and gamma ray bursts.