China wants to create a next-generation X-ray observatory that's designed to observe some of the most hostile and unstable phenomenon in space, such as black holes, neutron stars, and quark stars.
It's called the X-ray Timing and Polarimetry mission — or eXTP — and it's going to cost an estimated $473 million. China hopes to have a prototype ready by 2022 and launch it by 2025.
It's no surprise that space is an important endeavor for China. Even before the rekindled interest in space exploration fueled in part by Elon Musk and SpaceX's series of successful rocket launches and landings, China has been trying to bolster its space exploration efforts and develop the country's image as a space innovator.
China Announces New eXTP Telescope
By its announcement of eXTP, China basically confirms that it's eager to be at the front of the modern space race. According to The Chinese Academy of Sciences, eXTP will be a successor to Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope launched in June last year. It is expected to make China a leading figure in the world's X-ray astronomy between 2025 to 2035, said principal eXTP investigator Zhang Shuangnan.
"Since we have developed excellent technology and talent in X-ray astronomy, it's highly possible that we can take a leading role in this field if we keep pursuing it with more advanced detection instruments," said Zhang.
How Is It Different From Other Telescopes
Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope and the forthcoming James Webb satellites, the eXTP will not focus on taking pictures of the space but will instead deliver unique observations of space via alternative filters, gathering data on light from many different areas of the spectrum that cannot be easily captured by conventional equipment.
That seems to be a smart move since most ongoing experiments on astronomy — especially those that aim to discover more about black holes, distant galaxies, and similar space phenomenon — all in some way aim to observe what's beyond the visible light spectrum to find out what else can be detected.
Via focusing and collimating technologies, eXTP will study X-ray sources in the 0.5-30 keV energy range. It will carry four primary instruments: Spectroscopic Focusing Array, Polarimetry Focusing Array, Large Area Detector, and Wide Field Monitor.
"Our goal is to fly a truly large, flagship mission for astrophysics in the next decade," said eXTP international coordinator Andrea Santangelo, noting that he sees no technological hurdles ahead. "The mission's technical readiness is really high. And I'm not really worried about the timeframe. China has shown its ability to keep the schedule."