Tuesday, August 4, 2020

SpaceX wins $80 million NASA contract to launch environmental satellite

SpaceX has won another government contract from NASA – this time for $80.4 million to launch a NASA environmental research satellite. The satellite, PACE (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem), will weigh 1,700 kg and will enter sun-synchronous orbit after being launched onboard a Falcon 9. The Falcon 9 to be used will be “flight-proven,” meaning the first stage booster would have been used at least once before.

“SpaceX is honored to continue supporting NASA’s critical scientific observational missions by launching PACE, which will help humanity better understand, protect and preserve our planet,” Gwynne Shotwell, President and COO of SpaceX, said in a company statement.

This will be SpaceX’s third NASA science launch mission. The company previously had launched the Jason-2 oceanography satellite and the TESS astronomy satellite. SpaceX now has a total of 5 NASA missions to fulfill.

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PACE satellite. | NASA

The PACE mission represents the nation’s next great investment in understanding and protecting our home planet.

NASA in statement

Though most people think of NASA as the agency that operates a lot of the International Space Station, or something related to the Space Shuttles and Mars rovers, NASA actually does a lot more. There are hundreds of scientific missions that NASA has launched over the years. A lot of the Earth-observing missions, such as PACE, have helped in early disaster warning, ocean mapping, weather monitoring, etc. NASA satellites even found that smoke from the Australia fires was circling the Earth. These scientific missions are critical.

Lately, NASA has been facing threats of budget cuts to many of its scientific programs. The awarding of the launch contract to SpaceX is a sign that NASA will be going ahead with the development of PACE. An interesting fact to note, Netherlands is a contributor to the PACE project.

“PACE will help scientists investigate the diversity of organisms fueling marine food webs and the U.S. economy, and deliver advanced data products to reduce uncertainties in global climate models and improve our interdisciplinary understanding of the Earth system,” NASA said in a statement.

The mission is planned to be launched in December 2022 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Since the satellite has to be placed in sun-synchronous orbit, they have chosen Cape Canaveral. The mission will be managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

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