NASA has announced that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket — using a flight-proven booster — will establish the ~300 kg (670 lb) Imaging xray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) space-craft no earlier than April 2021.

Intriguingly, IXPE was originally intended to launch Orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman’s) Pegasus XL but NASA never followed with a launching contract. The proceed into SpaceX’s Falcon 9 aircraft is probably related to this extremely disruptive and costly launch delays NASA’s Ionospheric Link Explorer (ICON) space craft has suffered at the hands of its Pegasus XL rocket. Capable of starting greater than 450 kg (1000 lb) to low Earth orbit, Pegasus XL was blessed to launch annually over the last decade or so and carries a pricetag of at least $50M-$60M now.

To add to this: NASA says SpaceX may use an earlier flown booster onto this assignment.

IXPE is just a little satellite, yet this launching contract is significantly less than that which NASA paid to get the still-pending Pegasus XL launch of ICON ($56.3M in a 2014 contract). Think of that…— Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust) July 8, 20-19

Defying its small dimensions, Pegasus XL was originally scheduled to establish ICON in December 2017. Delayed by unspecified issues with launch vehicle hardware, the assignment was pushed an inexplicable 10 months to October 2018, where additional problems with the rocket indefinitely scrubbed a launching attempt. In ancient 20-19, the launching was tentatively scheduled for Q 2 2019, while — at the time of July — ICON isn’t expected to release before September 20-19.

All said and done, in the increasingly unlikely event that Pegasus XL is ready for launching this September, the ICON space-craft — ready for launching since late-2017 — will have been postponed significantly more than 21 months by issues with the rocket.

Again, for the small-scale performance of Pegasus XL, the aircraft carries a price tag of more than $50M — NASA’s ICON launching contract was valued at more than $56M. Due to this, SpaceX was able to influence NASA to establish the little IXPE space craft onto a flight-proven Falcon 9 at a price of only $50.3 million, easily the lowest Falcon 9 launching contract price ever publicized.

In recent years, SpaceX executives also have left comments indicating that Falcon-9’s default base price — likely assuming a flight-proven booster — is now as little as $50M. July 8th’s NASA launching contract is the first direct confirmation of the exceptionally affordable prices, likely also indicating that the base price for Falcon 9 is much lower for commercial clients using less strict requirements.

Having an abrupt contract between today and IXPE’s expected April 2021 launching, the assignment will probably be the first time that a passionate flight-proven SpaceX rocket establishes a scientific spacecraft for NASA. SpaceX’s next dedicated NASA launching — the ESA-built Sentinel 6A space craft — is scheduled to no earlier than November 2020 and is likely to fly a fresh Falcon 9 booster.

Back in April 20-19, NASA granted SpaceX $69M for Falcon 9 to establish the agency’s Dual Asteroid re-direct Test (DART) — an asteroid-impactor space-craft — no earlier than June 2021. IXME is now SpaceX’s next NASA launching contract triumph of 20-19.

In accordance with NASA,”IXPE will fly three distance telescopes with sensitive detectors capable of measuring the polarization of cosmic X-rays, allowing scientists to answer fundamental questions about these tumultuous surroundings where gravitational, electric and magnetic fields have reached their limits”

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