SpaceX has won a $50.3 million contract with NASA that will cover “the launch service and other mission-related costs” for the launch of the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer mission on board of a Falcon 9 rocket that will fly with a reused first stage booster.
Sounds like a lot doesn’t it? 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. That particular contract cost NASA $69 million.
This mission cost less simply because SpaceX will be using a first stage booster that had previously been used.
“SpaceX is honored that NASA continues to place its trust in our proven launch vehicles to deliver important science payloads to orbit,” SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell said in a statement.“IXPE will serve as SpaceX’s sixth contracted mission under NASA’s LSP, two of which were successfully launched in 2016 and 2018, increasing the agency’s scientific observational capabilities.”
But what will the mission do, exactly?
To begin with, the Falcon 9 rocket will fly the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) into a quite unusual 335-mile-high (540-kilometer) equatorial orbit. The IXPE will fly at a 0 degree inclination, which will minimize its exposure to radiation in the South Atlantic Anomaly (where the Van Allen radiation belt is closest to the Earth).
The data the spacecraft will study will give the astronomers more insight into what the environments they can’t see, as is the case with the environment around black holes, neutron stars and pulsars – the collapsed remnants exploding stars have left behind.