One of NASA’s more important science missions now has a ride. The agency has awarded SpaceX a contract to launch its SPHEREx astrophysics project. The mission won’t blast off using a Falcon 9 rocket until June 2024 at the earliest, but it promises to be one of the more prestigious missions SpaceX will fly.
SPHEREx (Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization, and Ices Explorer) is a two-year mission that should address multiple basic questions. It will create a 3D map of near-infrared light that could provide evidence of the cosmic inflation from the billionths of a second after the Big Bang, not to mention star formation in the earliest galaxies. The mission will also look for water and organic molecules in stellar “nurseries” to determine how they might have seeded the ingredients for life.
The contract comes just months after NASA certified SpaceX for regular astronaut flights. The US government is clearly comfortable with giving the company important projects, including ones that are still years away.