NASA Awards Chandra X-ray Observatory Follow-on Contract

Press Release From: Goddard Space Flight Center
Posted: Tuesday, August 26, 2003

NASA has awarded a contract to the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Mass., to provide science and operational support for the Chandra X-ray Observatory, one of the world's most powerful tools to better understand the structure and evolution of the universe.

The contract will have a period of performance from August 31, 2003, through July 31, 2010, with an estimated value of $373 million. It is a follow-on contract to the existing contract with Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory that has provided science and operations support to the Observatory since its launch in July 1999. At launch the intended mission life was five years.

As a result of Chandra's success, NASA extended the mission from five to 10 years. The value of the original contract was $289 million. The follow-on contract with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory will continue through the 10-year mission. The contract type is cost reimbursement with no fee.

The contract covers mission operations and data analysis, which includes the observatory operations, science data processing and the general and guaranteed time observer (astronomer) support. The observatory operations tasks include monitoring the health and status of the observatory and developing and up linking the observation sequences during Chandra's communication coverage periods.

The science data processing tasks include the competitive selection, planning, and coordination of science observations with the general observers and processing and delivery of the resulting scientific data. There are approximately 200 to 250 observing proposals selected annually out of about 800 submitted, with a total amount of observing time of about 20 million seconds.

Chandra has exceeded expectations of scientists, giving them unique insight into phenomena light years away, such as exotic celestial objects, matter falling into black holes, and stellar explosions.

X-ray astronomy can only be performed from space because Earth's atmosphere blocks X-rays from reaching the surface. The Chandra Observatory travels one-third of the way to the moon during its orbit around the Earth every 64 hours. At its highest point, Chandra's highly elliptical, or egg- shaped, orbit is 200 times higher than that of its visible- light-gathering sister, the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., manages the Chandra program for the Office of Space Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington. Northrop Grumman of Redondo Beach, Calif., formerly TRW, Inc., was the prime development contractor for the observatory. The Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory controls science and flight operations from the Chandra X-ray Center in Cambridge, Mass.

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For information about the Chandra X-ray Observatory on the Internet, visit: and

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