NASA has selected proposals for four missions that would study cosmic explosions and the debris they leave behind, as well as monitor how nearby stellar flares may affect the atmospheres of orbiting planets.
Following detailed evaluations, the agency intends to select two proposals in 2021 to be the next astrophysics missions under the Explorers Program. The selected missions will be targeted for launch in 2025.
Two astrophysics Small Explorer (SMEX) missions and two Missions of Opportunity (MO) proposals were competitively selected, based on potential science value and feasibility of development plans. Excluding the cost of launch, SMEX mission costs are capped at $145 million each, and MO costs are capped at $75 million each.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said, "These promising proposals under the Explorers Program bring out some of the most creative, innovative ways to help uncover the secrets of the universe.
"From studying stars and planets outside our solar system to seeking answers to the largest cosmic mysteries, I look forward to the breakthrough science from these modest size missions."
Each SMEX proposal will receive $2 million to conduct a nine-month mission concept study. The selected proposals are:
The Extreme-ultraviolet Stellar Characterization for Atmospheric Physics and Evolution (ESCAPE) Mission
The Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI)
MO proposals will each receive $500,000 to conduct a nine-month implementation concept study. The selected proposals are:
The Gravitational-wave Ultraviolet Counterpart Imager Mission
LEAP – A LargE Area burst Polarimeter
Dr Paul Hertz, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters said, “Each of these missions would take the next steps in some of the hottest areas of astrophysics today.”
The Explorers Program, managed by Goddard, 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 Science Mission Directorate’s astrophysics and heliophysics programs.
“With the high science rewards for low dollar amounts, Explorers missions successfully fill the scientific gaps in our current fleet of space observatories,” Dr Hertz added.
Since the launch in 1958 of Explorer 1, 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.
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