DENVER: SpaceX will launch a NASA mission to test an asteroid diversion technique at a significantly lower price than previous agency contracts won by the company.
NASA said on April 11 that it awarded SpaceX a contract to launch the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) on a Falcon 9 in June 2021 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The total cost for NASA's mission, including the launch and related services, is $ 69 million.
DART is a developing mission at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University as part of NASA's planetary defense program. The ship will use an electric propulsion system to travel to the asteroid Didymos. DART will hit a small moon orbiting Didymos, sometimes dubbed Didymoon, in a speech of six kilometers per second
Astronomers will measure the change in the orbit of the moon around Didymos as a result of the impact to measure how well the impact energy was transferred to the moon. That will help scientists evaluate the effectiveness of the proposed "kinetic impactor" approach as a means of deflecting an asteroid in a collision course with Earth.
DART originally planned to launch as a shared trip in the commercial launch of a geostationary-satellite orbit. The mission changed several months ago to a dedicated launch. NASA did not disclose whether DART, which weighs about 500 kilograms, will share the launch vehicle with another spacecraft.
The launch price of $ 61 million is significantly lower than NASA's previous contracts for Falcon 9 launches. NASA awarded SpaceX a contract for the Sentinel-6A satellite in October 2017 for a launch in November 2020. in a Falcon 9 Falconberg at a total cost of $ 97 million. The Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite will be launched on a Falcon 9 in April 2021 under a contract awarded in November 2016 for a total of $ 112 million.
"SpaceX is proud to continue our successful partnership with NASA in support of this important interplanetary mission," SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said in a company statement. "This award underscores NASA's confidence in Falcon 9's ability to perform critical scientific missions while providing the best launch value in the industry."
The award of the DART contract to SpaceX comes a week after the company withdrew its protest over another NASA launch contract awarded earlier this year to the United Launch Alliance for the Lucy mission. SpaceX had stated, when it presented the protest in February, that it could launch the mission at a cost significantly lower than the Atlas 5 of ULA.