SpaceX Nabbed NASA’s SPHEREx Launch Contract

SpaceX Nabbed NASA’s SPHEREx Launch Contract

SpaceX may be a lot of things conflicting things, but you have to admit one thing: NASA approves. So much so that it’s going to use SpaceX as launch company for the SPHEREx program.

The SPHEREx project is a seriously cool one. The name stands for Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (you can see why it needs a nickname), and it’s intended to answer two big questions. First, it’s supposed to help us understand how our universe evolved. Second, it’s designed to track down the common building blocks of life across the galaxy — basically, how common are certain elements and in which combinations do they need to appear for life to happen?

Here’s a little more info from Space:

The SPHEREx instrument will be able to gather optical and near-infrared light from a mind-bogglingly large number of sources: more than 100 million stars in the Milky Way itself and more than 300 million other galaxies. It will manage to tackle two different but equally fundamental questions in those two different purviews.

All told, SPHEREx will scan through the whole sky and gather data in 96 different wavelengths of light. Within our Milky Way galaxy, SPHEREx will map water and organic molecules, which are both fundamental ingredients for life as we know it. And beyond our galaxy, it will look back into the very first moments of our universe. Scientists will be able to use its data to prioritise observing targets for other future space telescope missions, including the James Webb Space Telescope and the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope.

The probe will hopefully launch as soon as 2024, hitching a ride on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. The launch will still be managed by NASA, and NASA is still going to be in charge of all the data — it just needs SpaceX as a way to hitch a ride out of the atmosphere.

With the money it had to pay to SpaceX, we’re looking at a mission that costs around $US98.8 ($129) million — which seems like a lot but could be a small price to pay to discover more about the mysteries of the universe.