SpaceX and NASA are like two peas in a pod as of late, with the space program leaning heavily on SpaceX for everything from satellite launches to the eventual launch of crewed missions using the SpaceX Crew Dragon. Now, NASA and the leading commercial space company have shaken hands on another deal.
In an announcement on the agency’s website, NASA reveals that it has awarded SpaceX a $50.3 million launch contract for its X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) mission. The launch won’t take place for another couple of years, but when it finally gets underway it’ll be a SpaceX Falcon 9 that makes the magic happen.
At the moment, the mission is scheduled for launch in April 2021, at which point the IXPE spacecraft will be inserted into Earth orbit where it will offer astronomers some powerful new options in studying some of the most interesting objects in the universe.
“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. “IXPE will fly three space telescopes with sensitive detectors capable of measuring the polarization of cosmic X-rays, allowing scientists to answer fundamental questions about these turbulent environments where gravitational, electric and magnetic fields are at their limits.”
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.