SpaceX wins a contract to launch a NASA science satellite


SpaceX has won a contract to launch a NASA satellite that will survey Earth’s surface water and take high-resolution ocean measurements.

The launch is set for April 2021 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The satellite will ride atop one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets.

The specific launch contract amount was not disclosed; it is considered “competition and procurement sensitive information,” NASA said.


The total cost for NASA to launch the Surface Water and Ocean Topography mission is about $112 million, which includes the launch service and spacecraft processing as well as other additional support beyond the SpaceX service.

In a statement, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company was “excited to carry this critical science payload into orbit.”

“We appreciate NASA’s partnership and confidence in SpaceX as a launch provider,” she said.

The mission adds to the list of NASA contracts won by SpaceX. In 2014, SpaceX was awarded a $3.1-billion contract with NASA to develop a crew capsule to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. In January, the Hawthorne space company launched NASA’s Jason-3 satellite, which is intended to measure the height of the ocean surface.

SpaceX has not launched any rockets since September, when a Falcon 9 rocket and a commercial communications satellite exploded on a launch pad in Florida.

An investigation into the cause of the explosion is ongoing, though the company has narrowed its focus to one of three composite overwrapped pressure vessels that store helium in the rocket’s second-stage liquid oxygen tank.


Earlier this month, SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk said the company could resume launches in December.

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