NASA has chosen a mission to send out six CubeSats, each one on a toaster oven size, to a orbit more than 20,000 miles from Earth to study massive particle drafts from the sun.
The Sun Radio Interferometer Space Experiment, or SunRISE, will be launched no later than July 1, 2023, after it has been selected by NASA as a mission of opportunity under the agency’s Explorers program.
SunRISE will consist of six CubeSats flying as close as 10 miles from each other. The nanosatellites will together act as a giant radio telescope and detect low-frequency emissions from solar activity and downlink the measurements through NASA’s Deep Space Network.
Data collected by SunRISE CubeSats will tell researchers about the source of coronal mass ejections, which launch huge gas bubbles and magnetic fields from the sun. Using a constellation of small satellites allows researchers to locate the outbreaks.
Coronal mass bursts accelerate energetic particles throughout the solar system, and the particles can play geomagnetic storms as they reach Earth. Such storms can affect radio communications, satellite navigation, electricity networks and satellite and human spaceflight.
“We are so excited to add a new mission to our space fleet that helps us better understand the sun, as well as how our star affects the space environment between planets,” said Nicky Fox, NASA’s heliophysics division director. “The more we know about how the sun breaks out with space weather events, the more we can mitigate their effects on spaceships and astronauts.”
Scientists want to better understand the processes of the sun that accelerate solar energy particles during projections of coronal mass.
The six SunRISE CubeSats will detect radio emissions simultaneously from slightly different locations in space. The radio signals that are the focus of the SunRISE mission are blocked by the Earth’s atmosphere, so scientists must send satellites to study them.
The SunRISE mission will create 3D maps to map the locations of powerful solar eruptions, while tracking how particle clouds and magnetic field lines develop as they leave the sun. According to NASA, data will help determine what initiates and accelerates the giant radiation jets.
The lead investigator for the SunRISE mission is Justin Kasper at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The mission will be handled at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
NASA says the SunRISE mission will cost $ 62.6 million to design, build and launch.
Each of the SunRISE nanosatellites is a six-unit, or 6U, CubeSat. Together, they will be launched on a geostationary satellite built by Maxar Technologies equipped with a Payload Orbital Delivery System, or PODS, rideshare accommodation.
The Maxar-built satellite will distribute the SunRISE satellites in orbit just above geostationary altitude – a so-called GEO cemetery orbit – more than 22,000 miles above Earth, Kasper said in an email to Spaceflight Now.
Kasper said Maxar and NASA have not identified the satellite that SunRISE will ride into orbit. It will be in a year, he said.
The SunRISE satellites will be built at the Space Dynamics Laboratory at Utah State University and the radio detectors will be provided by JPL, according to Kasper.
SunRISE was selected in 2017 for an 11-month mission concept study as one of two missions of opportunity under NASA’s Explorers program. In February 2019, NASA approved an extended formulation study for one more year to further mature technologies and plans for the SunRISE mission.
The second opportunity assignment selected for studies in 2017 was the Atmospheric Waves Experiment, or AWE, the mission. NASA decided last year to continue developing the $ 42 million AWE mission, which will mount an instrument outside the International Space Station to investigate the relationship between weather patterns in Earth’s atmosphere and space weather.
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