SpaceX Wins First NASA Science Launch Award

Image Credit: SpaceX

While SpaceX’s effort to break into the EELV launch market has garnered a great deal of media attention, the company has also been working quietly to earn a spot as a trusted supplier of launch services for NASA’s high profile science missions. With today’s announcement the company has officially crossed that threshold.  Note that the launch, scheduled for August 2017 was awarded at $87 million, nearly $100 million less than recent awards to the ULA Atlas V.

Next month’s scheduled launch of the Deep Space Climate Observatory, or DSCOVR spacecraft, will be hosted by NASA, but is part of three way partnership including NOAA, which owns the spacecraft and the USAF which is sponsoring the launch as its first ever test of the SpaceX Falcon 9. Another award, for the Jason-3 ocean topography spacecraft, has NASA participation, but it too is a joint project headed in the U.S. by NOAA, with international involvement by Eumetsat and CNES.

NASA Press Release:

December 16, 2014

NASA Awards Launch Services Contract for Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite
NASA has selected SpaceX to provide launch services for the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) mission. TESS will launch aboard a Falcon 9 v1.1 launch vehicle, with liftoff targeted for August 2017 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The total cost for NASA to launch TESS is approximately $87 million, which includes the launch service, spacecraft processing, payload integration, tracking, data and telemetry, and other launch support requirements.

TESS’s science goal is to detect transiting exoplanets orbiting nearby bright stars. During a three-year funded science mission, TESS will sample hundreds of thousands of stars in order to detect a large sample of exoplanets, with an emphasis on discovering Earth- and super-Earth-sized planets in the solar neighborhood.

The Launch Services Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for management and oversight of the Falcon 9 v1.1 launch services for TESS. The TESS Mission is led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with oversight by the Explorers Program at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Posted in: NASA, SpaceX

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3 Comments on "SpaceX Wins First NASA Science Launch Award"

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  1. observer says:

    While the reduction in cost to access space brought by SpaceX is undeniable, comparisons should be made objectively. TESS is a lightweight spacecraft, according to this:
    “TESS was baselined with Athena-2c or Taurus-3210”
    Both of those rockets would have likely similar price like this Falcon-9 award (Taurus-3110 launch was priced $70 million in 2010). Comparing it to the cost of a more capable (for a high-energy mission) Atlas-V is therefore not fully reasonable.

    • Stewart Money says:

      While it is correct that TESS is a small spacecraft, the launch vehicles themselves are not priced to reflect that fact. The Falcon 9 price to NLS would have been within a narrow range based on minimum or full capacity. Likewise with the Atlas V.

      • observer says:

        What I meant to point out is that if Falcon 9 wouldn’t have been available on the NLS, then this mission would most likely go to one of the smaller launchers. So Falcon 9 was not really competing against Atlas V in this particular case. SpaceX has still not started winning Atlas V sized mission contracts from the US government (off course except CCtCap).

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