NASA Taps SpaceX to Help Launch Polarized X-Ray Mission in 2021

Pablo Tucker
July 11, 2019

NASA has selected SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for the agencys Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission, which will allow astronomers to discover, for the first time, the hidden details of some of the most exotic astronomical objects in our universe. SpaceX's launches include NASA's commercial resupply missions it frequently performs for the International Space Station.

A flight-proven Falcon 9 has been tapped to launch IXPE from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. As per the report, it likely won't take the entire payload of the rocket. NASA estimated launch prices for DART at $69 million. Of the fourteen proposals that were submitted, only three have turned into concepts, with the IXPE mission selected with the "best science potential" which could see development plans in the future. She noted IXPE is the sixth mission the corporate has won a contract to launch through NASA's Launch Services Program, which handles satellite missions. That supply of business for the venerable rocket, though, could be in jeopardy with NASA's decision to launch IXPE on the Falcon 9, as well as the emergence of low-priced small launch vehicles that would seek certification from NASA's Launch Services Program within the near future.

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president, and COO said in a statement that the company is honored by NASA's continual trust in their proven launch rockets to send valuable science cargo to orbit.

Small science missions in astrophysics, Earth science and heliophysics had been the primary customers of the Pegasus XL. The IXPE rocket is created to fly at a distance of 540 kilometers to the equatorial orbit at an inclination of 0 degrees. Back in 2014, NASA's Astrophysics Explorers Program requested proposals for new space missions. The total cost of the mission, including launch and operations, is $188 million.

For SpaceX, the IXPE mission will serve as a clear indication of the company's capabilities in delivering vital payloads to space for scientific advancement. 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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