Elon Musk's SpaceX has won a contract with NASA to launch a new space telescope called SPHEREx into orbit, NASA said in a press release. The telescope will study distant galaxies, the expansion of the Universe, and also look for biogenic molecules.
NASA plans to launch the telescope in June 2024. It will be sent into orbit by SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex-4E at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The launch of SPHEREx will approximately cost $98.8 million.
The SPHEREx astrophysical mission is scheduled for two years, during which the researchers want to use a telescope to create the first spectrometry map of the entire sky in the near-infrared range. The telescope may operate much longer than planned.
Using spectrometry, scientists will split near-infrared light into individual wavelengths (or colors), like a prism splits sunlight into its component colors. This research will help understand what the object is made of, as certain chemical elements emit and absorb light of a certain wavelength. This method also allows scientists to determine the distance of the object to the Earth, so the map will be three-dimensional.
Besides, the telescope will search for water and organic molecules necessary for life in regions where stars are born from gas and dust, as well as disks around stars where new planets can form.
NASA hopes to collect data on more than 300 million galaxies during the mission, as well as on more than 100 million stars in the Milky Way galaxy.