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Will a scientific mission to the outer solar system be assigned to the Falcon Heavy by mid-2023?


NASA, sometimes in cooperation with other countries, launches missions to space to study planets, stars and other celestial bodies. In order to do this, scientists and engineers have to account for factors, such as money and weight.

To make a decent mission and to gather as much data as possible, a probe that NASA could send has to carry with it many scientific instruments. The more instruments there are, the heavier the probe is (and more expensive). The heavier the probe is, the more powerful the rocket to send it has to be. The more powerful the rocket is, the more expensive the mission is. Money and weight are the two main factors to make a mission to space.

These days, NASA's budget is more and more reduced. It was 0.47% of the federal budget in 2017 whereas it could reach 4.41% during the Apollo era. Only a few missions can be made, and most of them concern the study of Earth, stars, or the internal solar system. Even though some missions plan to study Jupiter, its moons, and sometimes Saturn, not a single mission, not even as a project, is planified to study space beyond the orbit of Saturn at the moment. The last and only mission that studied Uranus and Neptune was Voyager 2 and New Horizons studied Pluto for a few hours after a 9 years journey through space.

But earlier this year, the Falcon Heavy was launched for the first time. SpaceX's new heavy launcher, and current most powerful rocket is capable of launching 63,800 kg to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and 3,500 kg to Pluto, for a cost of 150M $, whereas the Delta IV heavy, the previous most powerful rocket, could only launch 28 790 kg to LEO for a cost of 400M $. The price of the kg in space is almost 6 times lower for the Falcon Heavy than the Delta IV Heavy (2351 $/KG → FH -- 13893 $/KG → D4H).

Therefore, the Falcon Heavy offers to NASA and other agencies the possibility to multiply its capacities of studying space and for a lower cost.

Will a scientific mission to the outer solar system be assigned to the Falcon Heavy within the next 5 years?

resolves positive if by end of July 2023, a credible media or other announcement indicates that a contract has been signed with SpaceX as one party, for the purpose of a scientific payload being launched on a Falcon Heavy rocket. "Scientific payload" here shall be taken to be a payload paid for by a nonprofit or government agency with scientific but not military, communication, etc. application.

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