Good news for SpaceX’s door as NASA approved their Falcon 9 rocket for their further missions. NASA has planned to reuse the Falcon 9’s first stage booster in the launch of the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer mission from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in April 2021. NASA signed a contract with SpaceX worth $50.3 million and it was announced on Monday as NASA conveyed in the press release, “the launch service and other mission-related costs.” The agreement proved to be SpaceX’s most epic progress in producing a spacecraft whose first stage booster can be reused as it turned out cost-cutting as well. NASA selected the Falcon 9 rocket in April to test NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test which is also known as DART.
The test is scheduled in mid-2021 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and as per a spokesperson from NASA, the contract is worth $69 million which also includes the production of a new first stage booster by SpaceX. The private organizations have been granted a total of six mission contracts till date by NASA’s Launch Services Program. The last contract which signed between SpaceX and NASA was the Sentinel 6A ocean altimetry mission in November 2020 from California. The contract was assigned back in October in the year 2017 and the contract is worth $97 million. As per NASA’s spokesperson Tracy Young, the IXPE mission was announced on Monday in which SpaceX will use the previously used first stage booster for NASA’s mission. SpaceX charges more to the US government customers and the US Air Force because of the mission assurance. The details of the project are not revealed in the public yet but the SpaceX is also providing a discount as per the satellite operators on launching the payloads on resuing the boosters.
“SpaceX is honored that NASA continues to place its trust in our proven launch vehicles to deliver important science payloads to orbit,” said Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX’s president and chief operating officer. “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.” The engineers of IXPE mission assumed that the aircraft will be launched on Northrop Grumman’s air-dropped Pegasus XL rocket. The IXPE rocket is built by Ball Aerospace and the spacecraft was designed to fir the Pegasus rocket’s payload fairing envelope and its weight is going to be around 300 kilograms during the launch. The IXPE rocket is designed to fly at a distance of 540 kilometers to the equatorial orbit at an inclination of 0 degrees. The reason behind following these coordinates is to reduce the exposure of the X-ray instrument in the South Atlantic Anomaly as it is the region where the inner Van Allen radiation belt comes closer to Earth’s surface. 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.
The spacecraft was supposed to launch in 2017 but due to some series of issues, the mission didn’t continue. As per NASA, ICON is scheduled to take off around September. The ICON contract is worth $56.3 million as per NASA’s announcement back in 2014. NASA has selected some heliophysics missions for the upcoming Small Explorer mission after IXPE. The plan is to launch four satellites named the Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere, or PUNCH. The launch is scheduled on the same spacecraft used for the Tandem Reconnection and Cusp Electrodynamics Reconnaissance Satellites, or TRACERS, mission. The PUNCH mission was supposed to be executed on a rocket by Pegasus but the agency decided to launch it in a different spacecraft. ASI which is an Italian Space Agency is going to provide the X-ray detectors for IXPE mission. The main motive of IXPE is to measure the polarization of high energy cosmic X-rays. It will collect the data for study and will be allotted to the astronomers so that they can understand the behavior of the following data provided by IXPE. The data is going to be related to the environment around the black holes, neutron stars, and pulsars. Pulsers are the dense collapsed remains which are left behind after the explosion of the stars. 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.