NASA Shuts Down 16-year-old X-ray Astronomy Satellite

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NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer (RXTE), a 3,200-kilogram astronomy satellite launched in 1995, was decommissioned Jan. 5, two days after making its last science observations.

Controllers at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., shut down the 16-year-old satellite after performing some final engineering tests.

“After two days we listened to verify that none of the systems we turned off had autonomously re-activated, and we’ve heard nothing,” Deborah Knapp, the RXTE mission director at Goddard, said in a Jan. 9 statement.

The satellite, which launched into a 600-kilometer circular orbit Dec. 30, 1995, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., aboard a Delta 2 rocket, is expected to re-enter the atmosphere between 2014 and 2023, depending in large part on solar activity, NASA said.

The decision to decommission RXTE followed the recommendations of a 2010 review board tasked with evaluating and ranking each of NASA’s operating astrophysics missions, NASA said.

“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,” RXTE project scientist Tod Strohmayer said.

NASA said data from the RXTE mission have resulted in more than 2,200 papers in refereed journals, 92 doctoral theses and more than 1,000 rapid notifications alerting astronomers to new astronomical activity.