SpaceX Wins Contract to Launch NASA Small Astrophysics Mission

Space.com | 7/10/1962 | Jeff Foust
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — NASA awarded a launch contract to SpaceX July 8 for the launch of a small astrophysics mission as the company offered a Falcon 9 at a lower price than a much smaller rocket.

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. NASA said the total cost to the agency for the launch is $50.3 million, which includes the launch itself and other "mission-related" costs.

Cost - NASA - Contract - SpaceX - April

That cost is significantly less than a NASA contract awarded to SpaceX April 11 for the launch of the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission in June 2021 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. NASA estimated launch costs for DART at $69 million.

One factor in the lower cost is the use of a previously flown first stage booster. Agency spokesperson Tracy Young said July 8 that the Falcon 9 launching IXPE will have a reused first stage.

SpaceX - NASA - Trust - Vehicles - Science

"SpaceX is honored that NASA continues to place its trust in our proven launch vehicles to deliver important science payloads to orbit," Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, said in a company statement. She noted IXPE is the sixth mission the company has won a contract to launch through NASA's Launch Services Program, which handles satellite missions.

NASA didn't state if IXPE would share the launch with one or more other customers. The agency previously said that the DART launch would be a dedicated mission. NASA, though, could add its own smallsat secondary payloads to the launch if there is excess capacity.

IXPE - Use - Payload - Performance - Falcon

It's unlikely that IXPE will make use of the full payload performance of the Falcon 9. The spacecraft has a mass of 292 kilograms, according to a mission fact sheet. The Falcon 9 can...
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