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

Eloise Marshall
July 11, 2019

The IXPE contract is part of NASA's Launch Services Program (LSP). The IXPE mission is led by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, with support from Ball Aerospace, the Italian Space Agency (ASI), Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at University of Colorado Boulder, and other partners. In total, the mission is slated to cost $188 million.

SpaceX wins a contract from NASA to launch Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer or IXPE that will help the researcher and scientists to study polarized light from sources like pulsar wind nebulae and supermassive black holes for more intricate observations.

One factor in the lower cost is the use of a previously flown first stage booster.

"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.

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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. The engineers of IXPE mission assumed that the aircraft will be launched on Northrop Grumman's air-dropped Pegasus XL rocket.

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. The IXPE rocket is created to fly at a distance of 540 kilometers to the equatorial orbit at an inclination of 0 degrees. Back in 2014, NASA's Astrophysics Explorers Program requested proposals for new space missions. The main motive of IXPE is to measure the polarization of high energy cosmic X-rays.

"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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