NASA Taps SpaceX to Help Launch Polarized X-Ray Mission in 2021

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NASA Taps SpaceX to Help Launch Polarized X-Ray Mission in 2021

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

The IXPE mission was selected in 2017, and was back then listed among NASA's small astrophysics missions. Ball Aerospace is responsible for providing the IXPE spacecraft, mechanical and structural elements of the payload, observatory assembly, and integration and test for IXPE. 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.

"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. 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.

For the upcoming project, SpaceX will turn to its veteran spacecraft Falcon 9 to carry NASA's Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) research vessel. The total cost of the mission, including launch and operations, is $188 million.

Small science missions in astrophysics, Earth science and heliophysics had been the primary customers of the Pegasus XL. The most recent to be announced was for a NASA mission, one that serves to demonstrate that the company's 74 Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy flights - has not gone unnoticed. The PUNCH mission was supposed to be executed on a rocket by Pegasus but the agency chose 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. They were unveiled by astronomers in a landmark discovery of the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Messier 87 galaxy, in the Virgo galaxy cluster. Pulsers are the dense collapsed remains which are left behind after the explosion of the stars.

"We can not directly image what's going on near objects like black holes and neutron stars, but studying the polarization of X-rays emitted from their surrounding environments reveals the physics of these enigmatic objects", Paul Hertz, director of NASA's astrophysics division, said in a statement at the time, adding that the project "will open a new window on the universe for astronomers to peer through".

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