NASA's IXPE mission marks another win in SpaceX's contract column

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon spacecraft onboard launches from pad 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center

NASA said that it selected SpaceX to launch the Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission on a Falcon 9 in April 2021 from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A.

NASA has awarded SpaceX a contract to launch an advanced new observatory that will enable scientists to study some of the most exotic objects in the universe in unprecedented detail. You'd be surprised to find out it's actually less than the previous contract the space agency awarded SpaceX back in April, for the launch of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission.

It's unlikely that IXPE will make use of the full payload performance of the Falcon 9.

This mission is just one of several upcoming launches SpaceX has agreed to carry out for NASA.

The orbiting observatory has a planned mission duration of two years, but as with many NASA projects, it's entirely possible that the spacecraft will get a new lease on life once its initial mission objectives have been wrapped up. NASA signed a contract with SpaceX worth $50.3 million and it was announced on Monday as NASA conveyed in the press release, "the launch service and other mission-related costs".

"SpaceX is honored that NASA continues to place its trust in our proven launch vehicles to deliver important science payloads to orbit", said SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell in a statement to TechCrunch. The reason behind following these coordinates is to reduce the exposure of the X-ray instrument in the South Atlantic Anomaly as it is the region where the inner Van Allen radiation belt comes closer to Earth's surface. The total cost of the mission, including launch and operations, is $188 million. Back in 2014, NASA's Astrophysics Explorers Program requested proposals for new space missions.

NASA has already awarded several launch contracts to SpaceX. The PUNCH mission was supposed to be executed on a rocket by Pegasus but the agency chose to launch it in a different spacecraft. IXPE mission will provide more imaging to complete the now existing observation resources based on space. In particular, it will measure the polarization of these X-rays, to understand how they are created by objects like neutron stars and pulsar wind nebulae.

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