NASA has awarded the agency’s $80.4 million Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission launch services contract to SpaceX. It is the fifth Earth science mission NASA has awarded to the California-based launch provider.
Designed and manufactured at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, PACE is expected to collect global ocean colour, cloud, and aerosol data. This data will enable researchers to better understand the oceanographic and atmospheric responses to Earth’s changing climate. NASA hopes the spacecraft will represent “the next great investment in understanding and protecting our home planet.”
The announcement of the launch contractor for the PACE mission will hopefully mean it is no longer a regular on the budgetary chopping block. The 2018, 2019 and 2020 NASA budgetary requests all proposed the cancellation of the mission as a cost-saving measure. However, in all three cases, Congress overruled the request and restored full funding for PACE.
NASA hopes to launch the PACE mission aboard a Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral in December 2020.
The PACE mission is the fifth awarded to SpaceX since the launch provider’s Falcon 9 rocket was first certified to carry NASA Earth science mission in 2015. The California-based launch provider has previously launched the Jason-3 oceanography satellite in 2016 and the TESS exoplanet hunter in 2018. Last year, SpaceX were awarded the DART asteroid impactor mission and the IXPE X-ray astronomy mission. DART is expected to be launched in June 2021 and IXPE in April 2021.