Two NASA missions will take a road trip with each other to orbit in April 2025, the agency declared.
Onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will be 5 spacecraft, one devoted to astrophysics and the other 4 a mission devoted to solar science. NASA said the “carpool” arrangement, as they described it, would rescue expenses and complications, in an announcement (opens in new tab) released Wednesday (Aug 3).
SpaceX Solar Wind Mission
‘Rideshares are a better way to save money”, Craig DeForest, the PUNCH principal analyst at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in the announcement. The dual beginning will take place from the Vandenberg space force base in California.
The operation of SPHEREx will not only be to map 300 million galaxies in the universe and 100 million stars of the Milky Way galaxy, but also to chase for signs of water and organic (life-friendly) molecules. These elements are there in stellar nurseries or regions filled with gas and dust surrounding young stars.
PUNCH, for now, will test solar ejections along with the superheated corona of the sun, in still another agency effort to study the origin of the solar wind. It will add on to the investigations of the Parker Solar Probe, which periodically swoops into the corona to test this critical region up close, amid others.
The goal in examining the corona is to better predict space weather or solar activity that can harm Earthlings and the satellites nearby our planet.
NASA’s Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere
(PUNCH) the mission will split the ride to space with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization, and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) mission. The missions will begin no earlier than April 2025 on a SpaceX Falcon 9.
It’s great to have a definite begin date and vehicle, and we are looking forward to working with the
SPHEREx team as we `carpool’ to orbit,” said Craig DeForest, PUNCH principal analyst at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. “Rideshares are a better way to save money by taking better advantage of each rocket’s capability.”
The contract with SpaceX was updated to include PUNCH and was awarded July 14, 2022. The PUNCH team was able to adjust its schedule to meet the new launch date no earlier than April 2025 and used this new schedule flexibility to mitigate some schedule constraints due to supply chain challenges.
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SpaceX updated about Solar Wind Mission
The agreement with SpaceX was updated to include PUNCH and was awarded July 14, 2022. The PUNCH team was able to adjust its plan to meet the new launch date of no earlier than April 2025 and used this new schedule flexibility to mitigate some schedule constraints due to supply chain challenges
PUNCH, which includes four suitcase-sized satellites, will focus on the Sun’s outer atmosphere (the corona) and how it leads to the solar wind. The spacecraft will track coronal mass ejections – large eruptions of solar material that can drive large space weather events near Earth – to better understand their evolution and develop new schemes for predicting such eruptions.
The 4 satellites will spread out around Earth along the day-night line, which enables it to generate a continuous, complete, view of the corona and inner solar system. 3 of the PUNCH satellites will carry identical Wide Field Imagers, which, together, image the corona and solar wind over a 90-degree field of visualization (out to 45 degrees away from the Sun).
In skywatching terms, 90 degrees cover the part of the sky from the horizon to the point directly overhead. The 4th PUNCH satellite carries a Narrow Field Imager coronagraph, which will study regions nearest to the Sun. All 4 cameras will be synchronized in flight so that the mission science team can combine their images seamlessly into a single large field of view
PUNCH is led the way by Southwest Research Institute’s office in Boulder, Colorado. The mission is controlled by Explorers Program Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, which is managed by Goddard for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
Southwest Research Institute will build the Wide Field Imagers and will build and command PUNCH. The Naval Research Laboratory in Washington will build the Narrow Field Imagers and supply optical testing. RAL Space in the United Kingdom will supply detectors and calibration for the mission.