SpaceX to launch NASA gamma-ray telescope

The NASA awarded a contract to SpaceX for the launch of the spacecraft Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI). This contract, worth approximately $69 millioncovers the launch and related activities, scheduled for August 2027.

The COSI mission, a Small Mission Explorer (SMEX) class in low Earth orbit, includes a gamma ray telescope designed to study gamma rays emitted by the explosions of massive stars at the end of their lives. These supernova explosions generate nucleosynthesis, fusing new atomic nuclei of heavier elements.

Scientists will use data from the COSI spacecraft to map the formation of these elements in the Milky Way. In addition, COSI observations will provide new insights into the annihilation of positrons, the antimatter equivalent of electrons, which appears to originate from the center of the galaxy. Another goal of COSI is to quickly inform about the location of short gamma-ray burstsextremely violent explosions that glow and then fade in just a few seconds, probably caused by the merger of neutron stars.

With a design previously tested on research balloons, the COSI telescope will focus on the soft gamma raysa relatively unexplored segment of the electromagnetic spectrum. After being selected by NASA in 2021 as the next Explorers mission, COSI received formal approval for development and launch in 2027, with a total budget of between $267 million and $294 million.

The COSI spacecraft, built by Northrop Grummanweighs less than a ton, but will travel alone into orbit aboard a rocket Falcon 9The mission will operate about 550 kilometers above the equator, in an orbit chosen to avoid radiation interference from the South Atlantic Anomaly. The Falcon 9 will place COSI directly into its operational orbit, then perform a lateral maneuver to align with the equator, a maneuver that requires a lot of energy.

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