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NASA selects proposals to further explore the fundamental nature of space

solar wind illustration

NASA has selected two new scientific proposals for nine-month conceptual research to deepen our understanding of how particles and energy in space, shown here, flowing from the Sun in an illustration of the solar wind, affect the fundamental nature of space. One proposal will ultimately be selected for launch along with NASA's upcoming interstellar sounding and acceleration in October 2024.

Credits: NASA

NASA has chosen two proposals for conceptual research that could help us better understand the fundamental nature of space and how it changes in response to planetary atmospheres, solar radiation, and interstellar particles. These proposals will contribute to the development of NASA's heliophysics program and can provide better protection for both technology and people as we travel farther from home.

Each of these proposals from the Heliophysical Science Mission will receive $ 400,000 for a nine-month study of the mission concept. After research, NASA will choose one proposal to launch as the secondary payload on the interstellar mapping and accelerating agency sensor (IMAP).

Proposals were selected based on the potential scientific value and feasibility of development plans. The total cost of this Opportunity Mission is limited to $ 75 million and is funded by NASA's Solar Earth Probes Program.

Selected offers:

Spatial / Spectral Image of the Heliosphere Estuary Alpha (SIHLA)

SIHLA will map the entire sky to determine the shape and underlying mechanisms of the boundary between the heliosphere, the area of ​​magnetic influence of our Suns and the interstellar medium, the border known as heliopause. Observations collect far-ultraviolet light emitted by hydrogen atoms. This wavelength is key to the study of many astrophysical phenomena, including planetary atmospheres and comets, because most of the universe is composed of hydrogen. SIHLA will focus on mapping the speed and distribution of the solar wind pouring particles from the sun, which will help us understand what drives the structure of the solar wind and heliopause. This is an area of ​​research that is developing rapidly thanks to data from NASA missions such as Voyager, Parker Solar Probe and Interstellar Boundary Explorer.

SIHLA's principal researcher is Larry Paxton of the Johns Hopkins University of Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

Global Lyman alpha dynamic exosphere scanners (GLIDE)

The GLIDE mission will study the variability of the exosphere of the Earth, the uppermost region of its atmosphere, tracking the far ultraviolet light emitted by hydrogen. The proposed mission will fill the existing measurement gap, since only a few such images were previously taken from outside the exosphere. The mission will collect observations at high speed, taking into account the entire exosphere, providing a truly global and comprehensive dataset. Understanding how the Earth's exosphere changes in response to the influence of the Sun above or the atmosphere below will give us better ways to predict and ultimately mitigate the ways in which space weather can interfere with radio communications in space.

GLIDE's primary researcher is Lara Waldrop of the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.

IMAP is currently scheduled to launch in October 2024 to orbit the point between the 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 Sun particles collide with material from the rest of the galaxy. This remote area controls the amount of harmful cosmic radiation entering the heliosphere, the magnetic bubble that protects our solar system from surrounding charged particles. Cosmic rays from the galaxy and beyond affect cosmonauts and can harm technological systems. They can also play a role in the presence of life in the universe.

Right from the start of the IMAP mission statement, the NASA Science Mission (SMD) had planned to launch a second spacecraft as part of the new SMD Rideshare Initiative, which cuts costs by sending multiple missions in a single launch. This launch will also include a demonstration mission for heliophysical technology capabilities, which will be announced separately to test technologies that can support future scientific missions, and a space weather observation mission by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which will expand this outer space. weather forecasting capabilities.

According to Peg Luce, NASA’s deputy director of heliophysics, launching such joint missions is a great way to maximize the impact of science while keeping costs low. We carefully select new heliophysical spacecraft in addition to the well-positioned spacecraft that NASA has in orbit to explore this vast solar wind system, and our sharing initiative expands our ability to send such key missions into space.

Public release. View fully here.

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