SpaceX Falcon Rockets win NASA’s third consecutive contract

SpaceX’s Falcon family of rockets dominate the US launch market, most recently securing NASA’s third consecutive launch contract this year.

On September 25, NASA announced that it awarded SpaceX a contract to launch its interstellar mapping and acceleration investigation (IMAP) mission and several rideshare payloads. For $ 109.4 million, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch a spacecraft (of unknown mass) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), Florida, before Earth’s L1 Lagrange point (NET) no earlier than October 2024.

An artist conception of the IMAP spacecraft. (NASA)

IMAP is the third consecutive launch contract that NASA has awarded to SpaceX. In early February 2020, the space agency awarded SpaceX a $ 80.4m contract to launch the Pace (Plankton, Aerosol, Cloud, Ocean Ecosystem) mission on Falcon 9 in December 2022. In late February, the space agency signed SpaceX again at $ 117. Contract to launch Manas spacecraft on a Falcon heavy rocket in July 2022.

NASA’s Pace spacecraft. (NASA)
NASA’s Manas spacecraft. (NASA)

In total, over the past seven months, NASA has awarded SpaceX – and SpaceX alone – three launch contracts, totaling $ 307 million. The last NASA launch contract victory of the Competitive Joint Launch Alliance (ULA) occurred in December 2019 when the space agency launched a $ 165.7 million award to the company on the Atlas V541 rocket in December 2021. On average, each SpaceX contract saves NASA at least $ 50 million on launch costs alone.

Before SpaceX broke ULA’s monopoly over US launch services, the company actually launched similar GOES-R and GOES-S satellites on the NASA ~ $ 230 million charged Atlas V541 rocket, meaning Is that the re-production of the competition can be around 40% and has been cut. ULA’s own prices.

Curiously, however, NASA’s IMAP Falcon 9 launch contract is priced very high relative to most other NASA Falcon 9 missions, including Pace. For $ 109.4 million, IMAP’s lone Falcon 9 contract will be $ 6.6 million – 5.6% – lower than Manas’ Falcon Heavy launch contract.

At the moment, nothing is publicly known about IMAP or its ~ 4 rideshare mass of passengers. NASA’s own launch calculator suggests that a Falcon with a drone ship booster recovery can launch up to 9 ~ 3400 kg (7500 lb), up to 1 point Lagrange, a type fixed between Earth and the Sun. Gravity is AD. While it is possible that SpaceX is the only saver and putting a little less money where its mouth is as reducing the cost of access to space, IMAP’s contract price strongly implies that the mission will be an expensive one for Falcon 9 .

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