NASA and SpaceX have come into a contract where the latter has been offered the contract to carry out launches on an interstellar science operation and other secondary payloads. An announcement by NASA on September 28, SpaceX was given the agreement to launch NASA’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) spacecraft to be carried out in 2024. The contract is estimated at $109.4 million, of which it covers the launch and arising expenditure from the operation.
IMAP, which is part of NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Probes program, was initiated for expansion in 2018 and will function at the L-1 Lagrange point, which is in the sun’s direction and 1.5 million KM from Earth. The mission will be to study the sun’s heliosphere boundary with interstellar space and quantity cosmic rays’ generation.
Given that there will be excess capacity on the science mission, NASA will utilize it by including several other secondary payloads on the launch. The loads will consist of NASA’s Lunar Trailblazer smallsat meant to circle the moon looking for aquatic ice and NOAA’s Space Weather Follow-On L-1 mission, which is a space weather monitoring mission. Just like the IMAP, it will be responsible for the operation at the L-1 point. There will be an inclusion of two supplementary NASA heliophysics though they are yet to be chosen.
SpaceX has been making fruitful efforts to be awarded contracts to liftoff NASA science satellites, and this new cooperation between the two marks yet another victory for the contactor. In April 2019, SpaceX won the contract to establish a launch for NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test task worth $69 million and launched in 2021. The company also secured a deal to launch Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer smallsat at $50.3 million. This year, the company won and got awarded the contract worth $80.4 million to launch the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, and Ocean Ecosystem spacecraft.
Like the IMAP assignment, SpaceX will be using the Falcon 9 rockets in the three launches. However, the IMAP task is expected to be costlier than the others because its task is more complicated as it involves numerous ancillary shipments targeting the L-1 point as well as the moon. The IMAP contract is a bit less than the contractor’s initial Falcon Heavy contract with the space explorers, meant for the Psyche asteroid mission granted in February and valued at $117 million.