SpaceX wins contract to launch NASA’s astrophysics mission

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken (right) and Douglas Hurley at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 23 as they prepare to be transported to Launch Complex 39A during a full dress rehearsal ahead of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station. (Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

Washington, Feb 6 (IANS) NASA has selected tech billionaire Elon Musk’s private aerospace company SpaceX to provide launch services for an astrophysics mission to survey the sky in the near-infrared light.

The planned two-year mission is called SPHEREx, short for Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization, and Ices Explorer.

The near-infrared light, which, though not visible to the human eye, serves as a powerful tool for answering cosmic questions involving the birth of the universe, and the subsequent development of galaxies, according to NASA.

SPHEREx will also will search for water and organic molecules — essentials for life as we know it — in regions where stars are born from gas and dust, known as stellar nurseries, as well as disks around stars where new planets could be forming, the US space agency said this week.

The mission currently is targeted to launch as early as June 2024 on a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Astronomers will use the mission to gather data on more than 300 million galaxies, as well as more than 100 million stars in our own Milky Way galaxy.

The total cost for NASA to launch SPHEREx is approximately $98.8 million, which includes the launch service and other mission related costs.

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