Published : Friday, August 11, 2017 | 2:40 PM
A study being managed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory that aims to look into how particles from the sun are accelerated and released into interplanetary space has been chosen by NASA along with eight other proposed studies for inclusion under its Explorers Program.
JPL’s proposed study, the Sun Radio Interferometer Space Experiment (SunRISE), will consist of a constellation of cubesats or miniaturized satellites operating as a synthetic aperture radio telescope to address the critical heliophysics problems of how solar energetic particles are accelerated and released into interplanetary space.
Heliophysics is the study of how the sun affects space and the space environment of planets.
SunRISE principal investigator is Dr. Justin Kasper, an associate professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Kasper also designs sensors for spacecraft that explore extreme environments in space from the surface of the sun to the outer edges of the solar system. He is interested in understanding the forces that lead to solar flares and the solar wind, a stream of particles heated to millions of degrees in the sun’s atmosphere, or corona.
The mission of the Explorers Program is to provide frequent flight opportunities for world-class scientific investigations from space utilizing innovative, streamlined and efficient management approaches within the heliophysics and astrophysics science areas.
According to NASA, the selected experiments under the Explorers Program will return transformational science about the Sun and space environment and fill science gaps between the agency’s larger missions.
The program seeks to enhance public awareness of, and appreciation for, space science and to incorporate educational and public outreach activities as integral parts of space science investigations.
“The Explorers Program seeks innovative ideas for small and cost-constrained missions that can help unravel the mysteries of the Universe,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s Astrophysics Division and the selection official.
“These missions absolutely meet that standard with proposals to solve mysteries about the Sun’s corona, the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetosphere, and the solar wind.”
Under the selected proposals, five Heliophysics Small Explorer missions and two Explorer Missions of Opportunity Small Complete Missions (SCM), concept studies will be conducted that span a broad range of investigations focusing on terrestrial weather in the near-Earth space environment — magnetic energy, solar wind, heating and energy released in the solar atmosphere.
According to NASA, the proposals were selected based on potential science value and feasibility of development plans. Small Explorer mission costs are capped at $165 million each, and Mission of Opportunity costs are capped at $55 million each.
Each Heliophysics Small Explorer mission will receive $1.25 million to conduct an 11-month mission concept study.
Aside from SunRISE, NASA also selected the following proposals for inclusion in the Explorers Program: Mechanisms of Energetic Mass Ejection — eXplorer (MEME-X), Focusing Optics X-ray Solar Imager (FOXSI), Multi-Slit Solar Explorer (MUSE), Tandem Reconnection and Cusp Electrodynamics Reconnaissance Satellites (TRACERS), Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere (PUNCH), and Atmospheric Waves Experiment (AWE).
The Explorers Program is the oldest continuous NASA program designed to provide frequent, low-cost access to space using principal investigator-led space science investigations relevant to the agency’s astrophysics and heliophysics programs. Since the Explorer 1 launch in 1958, which discovered Earth’s radiation belts, the Explorers Program has launched more than 90 missions, including the Uhuru and Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) missions that led to Nobel Prizes for their investigators.
The program is managed by Goddard for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, which conducts a wide variety of research and scientific exploration programs for Earth studies, space weather, the solar system and universe.