NASA Awards SpaceX its $50 Million IXPE Mission

Artist's depiction of NASA's Imaging X Ray Polarimetry Explorer spacecraft. Image Credit NASA

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. As per the report, it likely won't take the entire payload of the rocket.

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

Last month, the company completed what Musk described as its "most difficult" mission ever when it launched a host of scientific payloads into space for the Department of Defense's (DoD) Space Test Program-2 (STP 2.) In total, the rocket deployed 24 satellites at three different orbits in a mission lasting over six hours.

SpaceX's President and Chief Operating Officer, Gwynne Shotwell, made the following statement after the announcement of the contract award. The IXPE rocket is created to fly at a distance of 540 kilometers to the equatorial orbit at an inclination of 0 degrees. 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.

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Small science missions in astrophysics, Earth science and heliophysics had been the primary customers of the Pegasus XL.

The spacecraft was supposed to launch in 2017 but due to some series of issues, the mission didn't continue. NASA has yet to announce a new launch date for ICON.

NASA has already awarded several launch contracts to SpaceX. The agency previously said that the DART launch would be a dedicated mission.

The space agency says that IXPE will improve sensitivity over the only previous X-ray polarimeter-aboard the Orbiting Solar Observatory-8-by two orders of magnitude. The main motive of IXPE is to measure the polarization of high energy cosmic X-rays. Astronomers are expecting a lot from the IXPE mission as they are hoping that it will help them in revealing the spin of black holes and help them in the new discoveries about the extreme magnetic fields around a special type of neutron star called magnetars. These nebulae are known to emit X-rays, so IXPE will study them to see how the particles inside the nebulae are accelerated.

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