NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for Groundbreaking Astrophysics Mission

SpaceX gets $50 million NASA contract to launch space telescopes from Kennedy Space Center

That source 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 could seek certification from NASA's Launch Services Program in the near future.

Currently, launch of the IXPE is scheduled for April 2021 from Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida. 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.

The mission critical design review (M-CDR) of NASA's Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) space-based astrophysics observatory was recently completed at Ball Aerospace's Boulder, Colorado, facility.

One factor in the lower cost is the use of a previously flown first stage booster.

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"SpaceX is honored that NASA continues to place its trust in our proven launch vehicles to deliver important science payloads to orbit", said SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell in a statement to TechCrunch. The IXPE rocket is built by Ball Aerospace and the spacecraft was created to fir the Pegasus rocket's payload fairing envelope and its weight is going to be around 300 kilograms during the launch. 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 PUNCH mission was supposed to be executed on a rocket by Pegasus but the agency chose to launch it in a different spacecraft.

In January 2017 NASA selected IXPE as a part of its astrophysics mission to study the polarization of X-rays from a variety of sources. NASA has yet to announce a new launch date for ICON. The only mission which comes in the name of Northrop Grumman's Pegasus is the launch of NASA's Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, spacecraft.

"IXPE measures polarized X-rays from objects, such as black holes and neutron stars to better understand these types of cosmic phenomena and extreme environments", NASA explains in a new blog post.

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