Spaceflight Now Home

Mission Reports

For 11 years, Spaceflight Now has been providing unrivaled coverage of U.S. space launches. Comprehensive reports and voluminous amounts of video are available in our archives.
Space Shuttle
Atlas | Delta | Pegasus
Minotaur | Taurus | Falcon


Sign up for our NewsAlert service and have the latest space news e-mailed direct to your desktop.

Enter your e-mail address:

Privacy note: your e-mail address will not be used for any other purpose.


Space Books

NASA turns off aging Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer

Posted: January 9, 2012

Bookmark and Share

AUSTIN, Texas -- NASA decommissioned the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer last week, ending a 16-year-mission that gave researchers glimpses of the inner workings of black holes and neutron stars, the space agency announced Monday.

Artist's concept of the RXTE spacecraft. Credit: NASA
RXTE returned its final science data Jan. 4 and engineers decommissioned the spacecraft the next day, according to NASA.

"The spacecraft and its instruments had been showing their age, and in the end RXTE had accomplished everything we put it up there to do, and much more," said Tod Strohmayer, RXTE project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

RXTE launched aboard a Delta 2 rocket Dec. 30, 1995, from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

The mission's three instruments observed the universe in the X-ray spectrum, measuring changes in emission from microseconds to months, according to NASA. The payloads were provided by Goddard, the University of California at San Diego and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

RXTE's precise timing capability helped astronomers study neutron stars, or pulsars, the highly-compressed remnants of dead stars that accumulate hundreds of millions times the mass of Earth into a volume the size of a city. Pulsars can spin hundreds of times per second.

The satellite also observed X-ray signals in the rapidly swirling accretion disks surrounding black holes. RXTE provided the first observational evidence of "frame-dragging" in the vicinity of a black hole, an effect predicted by Einstein's general relativity theory, according to a NASA fact sheet.

The project was named for Bruno Rossi, an MIT astronomer and X-ray physics expert who died in 1993.

The decision to end RXTE's operational mission came after independent researchers in 2010 ranked the project's priority as low compared to other NASA scientific spacecraft.

The satellite was put into a tumble in its orbit 294 miles above Earth, a NASA spokesperson said. The observatory's orbit has an inclination of 23 degrees to the equator.

"After two days we listened to verify that none of the systems we turned off had autonomously re-activated, and we've heard nothing," said Deborah Knapp, RXTE mission director at Goddard.

NASA officials said the 7,000-pound spacecraft is expected to fall back into Earth's atmosphere some time between 2014 and 2023. Fluctuations in solar activity cause the atmosphere to expand and contract, making it difficult to accurately predict when uncontrolled satellites will re-enter.

John Glenn Mission Patch

Free shipping to U.S. addresses!

The historic first orbital flight by an American is marked by this commemorative patch for John Glenn and Friendship 7.

Final Shuttle Mission Patch

Free shipping to U.S. addresses!

The crew emblem for the final space shuttle mission is available in our store. Get this piece of history!

Celebrate the shuttle program

Free shipping to U.S. addresses!

This special commemorative patch marks the retirement of NASA's Space Shuttle Program. Available in our store!

Anniversary Shuttle Patch

Free shipping to U.S. addresses!

This embroidered patch commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Program. The design features the space shuttle Columbia's historic maiden flight of April 12, 1981.

Mercury anniversary

Free shipping to U.S. addresses!

Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Alan Shephard's historic Mercury mission with this collectors' item, the official commemorative embroidered patch.

Fallen Heroes Patch Collection
The official patches from Apollo 1, the shuttle Challenger and Columbia crews are available in the store.



© 2014 Spaceflight Now Inc.