NASA announced last Thursday (4) the company chosen to launch the Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) mission, which is looking for the origins of the universe. SpaceX won the competition.
According to the space agency, the new contract signed with Elon Musk’s company will cost US $ 98.8 million, equivalent to R $ 526 million in direct conversion, at the current price. The amount includes the launch service and other costs related to the mission.
Scheduled for June 2024 (the schedule is still subject to confirmation), the launch of the SPHEREx mission will take place at the Vandenberg air base in California (United States). SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will be responsible for propelling the spacecraft.
With the definition of the company that will launch, the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory team and the California Institute of Technology now work on other important stages of the project, including assembling hardware and software, and then starting the first tests .
Tracking stars and galaxies
Over the course of two years, the SPHEREx mission will scan the sky in infrared light, invisible to the human eye, to try to answer important cosmic questions regarding the birth of the universe and the development of galaxies, doing a thorough survey every six months.
Functioning as a space observatory, the spacecraft will collect data from more than 300 million galaxies and more than 100 million stars in the Milky Way, some of them so far away that their light took 10 billion years to reach Earth. The work will create a gigantic database.
In our galaxy, the telescope will also look for water and organic molecules, essential elements for the existence of life as we know it. This specific search will take place in regions known as stellar nurseries, where stars form from gas and dust, and in disks around stars, in which there may be new planets forming.
Astronomers want to use the equipment to generate a complete map of the sky in 96 bands of different colors, quite an advance compared to previous models. In addition, it will be able to identify targets that will be further investigated by other NASA equipment, such as the long-awaited James Webb space telescope.
Partnership between NASA and SpaceX
In recent years, SpaceX has become one of the main partners of the American space agency. It was through a contract with her that NASA started launching manned trips from the North American territory in 2020, after almost 10 years without carrying out such missions.
The Demo-2 mission, launched in May last year, took four astronauts to the International Space Station aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft, powered by the Falcon 9 rocket. The contract provides for a total of six flights to the orbital laboratory, the next scheduled to take off in April, also taking members of the Japanese (JAXA) and European (ESA) agencies.
There are several other contracts between SpaceX and NASA. Among the highlights are the launches of the Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, ocean Ecosystem (PACE) mission, to study the colors of the oceans, and the Psyche mission, which will explore the asteroid of the same name. Both are scheduled for 2022.