SpaceX have been chosen NASA as their chosen launch vehicle (Image: GETTY)
The spacecraft is called the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer, or IXPE. SpaceX president and COO Gwynne Shotwell in a statement said: “SpaceX is honoured that NASA continues to place its trust in our proven launch vehicles to deliver important science payloads to orbit. 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.”
Intriguingly, IXPE was originally planned to launch on Orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman’s) Pegasus XL but NASA never followed through with a launch contract.
The move to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is likely related to the extremely disruptive and expensive launch delays NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) spacecraft has suffered at the hands of its Pegasus XL rocket.
Capable of launching less than 450 kg (1000 lb) to low Earth orbit, Pegasus XL has been lucky to launch annually over the last decade or so and carries a price tag of no less than $50million-$60million (£39million-£49million)today.
The mission will help scientists in the study of magnetars (a specific type of neutron star with especially powerful magnetic fields), black holes and “Pulsar Wind Nebulae” which are nebula that are found within the remains of a supernova.