NASA has awarded a $98.8 million contract to SpaceX for the launch of its SPHEREx mission.
The Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization, and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) spacecraft is expected to map the entire sky four times during its 25-month mission. During this time, it will gather data on 300 galaxies and 100 million stars in the Milky Way. Its primary focus will be to search for organic molecules and water in stellar nurseries, regions of space where stars are born from gas and dust.
In a February 4 press release, NASA announced that the SPHEREx mission would be launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 from Space Launch Complex-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The launch is currently slated for no earlier than June 2024.
The SPHEREx spacecraft will be supplied by Colorado-based Ball Aerospace & Technologies while the payload is being developed jointly by CalTech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Additional support in the way of a non-flight cryogenic test chamber will be supplied by the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute.
At just under 200 kilograms, the Falcon 9 set to launch the SPHEREx spacecraft will likely have significant excess capacity. It is currently unclear if NASA is set to make use of the excess capacity with additional payloads, or if SpaceX will be allowed to offer the space to other customers.
The awarding of the SPHEREx contract is the latest in a string of NASA science mission launch contracts that SpaceX has won. The awards include the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) and the Imaging X-Ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) in 2019, and the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE), Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP), and the Psyche mission, which will be launched aboard a Falcon Heavy, in 2020.