The National Aeronautics and Space Administration -- NASA -- awarded United Launch Services LLC, or ULS, a $172.7 million contract Tuesday, hiring the consortium to launch the Solar Orbiter Collaboration mission to study the sun.

The Solar Orbiter spacecraft is a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency, aiming to study the sun and its outer atmosphere, photographing the sun with high spatial resolution lenses, and focusing on observations of the sun's polar regions.

The Solar Orbiter is set to blast off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida sometime in July 2017. ULS's contract pays the consortium to process the spacecraft, integrate its payload, launch the spacecraft, and track its flight and monitor the telemetry from the mission.

United Launch Services is a subsidiary of the United Launch Alliance, itself in turn a joint venture between Boeing (NYSE:BA) and Lockheed Martin (NYSE:LMT).

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