Launch of a Groundbreaking Spacecraft
China has marked a significant milestone in space science with the launch of the Einstein Probe (EP), a spacecraft designed to explore the X-ray universe. Launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center aboard a Long March 2C rocket, EP is a key component of China's expanding strategic space science initiatives. With a mission duration of at least three years, EP will observe and analyze violent cosmic phenomena, such as stars being torn apart by black holes, supernovae, and the electromagnetic counterparts to gravitational wave events. This mission promises to offer unprecedented insights into these distant and violent interactions.
Innovative "Lobster Eye" Optics for Deeper Exploration
The Einstein Probe is equipped with a Wide-field X-ray Telescope (WXT) that utilizes state-of-the-art "lobster eye" optics, a technology inspired by the natural vision of lobsters. This advanced optical system allows the probe to view X-ray events with greater depth and breadth than previously possible. The WXT's design comprises 12 modules that provide an expansive field of view, using a reflection technique where parallel square pores on a sphere guide X-rays to a CMOS light detector. The European Space Agency (ESA) has played a significant role in this mission, contributing to the testing and calibration of WXT's detectors and optical elements.
The Probe's Potential and International Collaboration
The Einstein Probe's capability to process data on board and autonomously follow up on X-ray events sets it apart from previous missions. It includes a Follow-up X-ray Telescope (FXT), developed in collaboration with European partners, which can quickly target areas where X-ray events are detected by WXT. This feature is crucial for studying short-lived cosmic events and contributes to the rapidly evolving field of gravitational wave astronomy. The ESA will gain access to a portion of EP's data, thanks to its contributions to the mission, enhancing the international scientific community's understanding of various astronomical phenomena. China's commitment to space science is evident in its series of dedicated missions, with EP being a part of the Strategic Priority Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.