NASA has selected two proposals for concept studies that could help us better understand the fundamental nature of space and how it changes in response to planetary atmospheres, radiation from the sun, and interstellar particles.
The proposals will advance NASA’s heliophysics program and could lead to better protection for both technology and humans as we travel farther from home.
Each of these Heliophysics Science Mission of Opportunity proposals will receive $400,000 to conduct a nine-month mission concept study. After the studies, NASA will choose one proposal to launch as a secondary payload on the agency’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP).
The proposals were selected based on potential science value and feasibility of development plans. Total cost of this Mission of Opportunity is capped at $75 million and is funded by NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Probes program.
Peg Luce, deputy director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division said, “Launching missions together like this is a great way to ensure maximum science return while keeping costs low.”
NASA’s selected proposals include:
IMAP currently is scheduled to launch in October 2024 to orbit a point between Earth and the sun known as the first Lagrangian point, or L1. From there, IMAP will help researchers better understand the interstellar boundary region, where particles from the sun collide with material from the rest of the galaxy.
This distant area controls the amount of harmful cosmic radiation entering the heliosphere, the magnetic bubble that shields our solar system from charged particles surrounding it. Cosmic rays from the galaxy and beyond affect astronauts and can harm technological systems. They also may play a role in the presence of life in the universe.
From the start of IMAP mission formulation, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) planned to include secondary spacecraft on the launch under the agency’s new SMD Rideshare Initiative, which cuts costs by sending multiple missions on a single launch.
“We carefully select new heliophysics spacecraft to complement the well-placed spacecraft NASA has in orbit to study this vast solar wind system – and our rideshare initiative increases our opportunities to send such key missions into space,” Luce added.
This launch will also include a Heliophysics Technology Demonstration Mission of Opportunity – which will be announced separately – to test technologies that can enable future science missions, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Follow-On mission, which will expand that agency’s space weather forecasting capabilities.
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