NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for Groundbreaking Astrophysics Mission

Mindy Sparks
July 11, 2019

In an announcement on the agency's website, NASA reveals that it has awarded SpaceX a $50.3 million launch contract for its X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission.

As per sources, this is just one of the upcoming launches that have been contracted with SpaceX by NASA.

The IXPE mission now is targeted to launch in April 2021 on a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A in Florida.

It's unlikely that IXPE will make use of the full payload performance of the Falcon 9. The last contract which signed between SpaceX and NASA was the Sentinel 6A ocean altimetry mission in November 2020 from California. 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. This is the sixth contract the company has won through NASA's Lunch Service Program, which oversees the launch of unmanned rockets carrying satellites for scientific missions by contracting commercial companies.

SpaceX will launch the IXPE mission onboard on a fight-proven Falcon 9.

"SpaceX is honored that NASA continues to place its belief in our proven launch automobiles to ship necessary science payloads to orbit", Gwynne Shotwell, president, and chief operating officer of SpaceX stated in a company statement. 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 agency previously said that the DART launch would be a dedicated mission. ASI which is an Italian Space Agency is going to provide the X-ray detectors for IXPE mission. Back in 2014, NASA's Astrophysics Explorers Program requested proposals for new space missions.

"We can not directly image what's going on near objects like black holes and neutron stars, but studying the polarization of X-rays emitted from their surrounding environments reveals the physics of these enigmatic objects", Paul Hertz, director of NASA's astrophysics division, said in a statement at the time, adding that the project "will open a new window on the universe for astronomers to peer through". It will collect the data for study and will be allotted to the astronomers so that they can understand the behavior of the following data provided by IXPE.

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