NASA and SpaceX Will Be Working Together For Small Astrophysics Mission

NASA provided a launch contract to SpaceX July 8 for the launch of a small astrophysics mission as the corporate provided a Falcon 9 at a lower price than a much smaller rocket.

NASA stated 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 stated the total value to the company for the launch is $50.three million, which includes the launch itself and different “mission-related” prices.

That price is significantly less than a NASA contract awarded to SpaceX April 11 for the launch of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission in June 2021 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. NASA estimated launch prices for DART at $69 million.

One issue within the lower price is using a previously-flown first stage booster. Company spokesperson Tracy Young stated July eight that the Falcon 9 launching IXPE would have a reused first stage.

“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. 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.

Small science missions in astrophysics, Earth science and heliophysics had been the primary customers of the Pegasus XL. 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-cost small launch vehicles that would seek certification from NASA’s Launch Services Program within the near future.

The one mission on the manifest for the Pegasus XL is the ICON mission, which has suffered extensive delays due to technical issues with the rocket. NASA has yet to announce a new launch date for ICON.