NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for Groundbreaking Astrophysics Mission

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NASA awarded Hawthorne-based SpaceX a $50.3 million contract to launch three space telescopes in 2021.

NASA has awarded SpaceX a contract to launch an advanced new observatory that will enable scientists to study some of the most exotic objects in the universe in unprecedented detail.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company's Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard takes off during the Demo-1 mission, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 2, 2019. "In addition to IXPE, SpaceX's future launch manifest includes NASA's LSP missions SWOT, Sentinel-6A, and DART".

The orbiting observatory has a planned mission duration of two years, but as with many NASA projects, it's entirely possible that the spacecraft will get a new lease on life once its initial mission objectives have been wrapped up. 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. The engineers of IXPE mission assumed that the aircraft will be launched on Northrop Grumman's air-dropped Pegasus XL rocket. 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).

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The spacecraft was supposed to launch in 2017 but due to some series of issues, the mission didn't continue. 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. - SpaceX keeps racking up contractual wins. The PUNCH mission was supposed to be executed on a rocket by Pegasus but the agency chose to launch it in a different spacecraft.

For SpaceX, the IXPE mission will serve as a clear indication of the company's capabilities in delivering vital payloads to space for scientific advancement.

IXPE is a part of NASA's Small explorer class of missions. The main motive of IXPE is to measure the polarization of high energy cosmic X-rays. 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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