NASA selects missions to study our sun and its effects on space weather


A constant flow of solar material comes out of the Sun, represented here in an artist's interpretation.

A steady stream of solar material flows from the Sun, pictured here in an artist's rendering. On June 20, 2019, NASA selected two new missions: the Polarometer to Unify the Corona Mission and Heliosfera (PUNCH) and the Tandem Reconnection and Electrodynamic Cessus (TRACERS) Satellites to study the origins of this solar wind and how it affects Earth. Together, the missions support NASA's mandate to protect astronauts and technology in space from such radiation.

Credits: NASA

NASA has selected two new missions to advance our understanding of the Sun and its dynamic effects in space. One of the selected missions will study how the Sun directs particles and energy to the solar system and a second will study the Earth's response.

The Sun generates a large spill of solar particles known as the solar wind, which can create a dynamic system of radiation in space called space weather. Near Earth, where such particles interact with the magnetic field of our planets, the space weather system can lead to profound impacts on human interests, such as astronaut safety, radio communications, GPS signals and utility networks in the ground. The more we understand what drives space weather and its interaction with Earth and lunar systems, the more we can mitigate its effects, including the protection of astronauts and the crucial technology for NASA's Artemis Moon program.

We have carefully chosen these two missions not only because of the high-class science they can do for themselves, but because they will work well together with the other heliophysical spacecraft that promote NASA's mission to protect astronauts, the life here on Earth. , said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Scientific Missions Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington. These missions will be great science, but they are also special because they come in small packages, which means we can launch them together and get more research for the price of a single launch.


The Polarometer to Unify the Crown and Heliosphere mission, or PUNCH, will focus directly on the outer atmosphere of the Suns, the crown, and how it generates the solar wind. Composed of four satellites the size of a suitcase, the PUNCH will visualize and track the solar wind as it rises from the sun. The spacecraft will also track coronal mass ejections of large eruptions of solar material that can conduct large space climatic events near Earth to better understand their evolution and develop new techniques to predict such eruptions.

These observations will enhance national and international research by other NASA missions such as Parker Solar Probe and the future European Space Agency / NASA Solar Orbiter, due to be launched in 2020. The PUNCH will be able to visualize in time the image. structures in the solar atmosphere that these missions find blocking the bright sunlight and examining the much weaker atmosphere.

Together, these missions will investigate how the star with whom we live drives the radiation in space. PUNCH is led by Craig DeForest at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Including launch costs, PUNCH is being funded for no more than $ 165 million.


The second mission is Tandem Reconnection and Cusp Electrodynamics Reconnaissance Satellites, or TRACERS. The TRACERS investigation was partially selected as a mission shared by NASA, which means it will be released as a secondary load with the PUNCH. The NASA Science Mission Directorate is emphasizing secondary cargo missions as a way to achieve greater scientific return. TRACERS will observe particles and fields in the region of the magnetic cusp of the Earth's north, the region surrounding the Earth's pole, where our magnetic field lines of planets curl toward Earth. Here, the field lines guide the particles from the boundary between the Earth's magnetic field and the interplanetary space into the atmosphere.

In the cusp area, with easy access to our boundary with interplanetary space, TRACERS will study how magnetic fields around the Earth interact with those of the Sun. In a process known as magnetic reconnection, field lines are explosively reconfigured, sending particles out at speeds that can approach the speed of light. Some of these particles will be guided by the Earth's field to the region where TRACERS can observe them.

Magnetic reconnection promotes energetic events throughout the universe, including coronal mass ejections and solar blasts in the sun. It also allows particles of the solar wind to penetrate the space around the Earth, boosting the space climate. TRACERS will be the first space mission to explore this process at the cusp with two spacecraft, providing observations of how processes change both in space and in time. The cusp's vantage point also allows for simultaneous reconnection observations throughout the space near the Earth. Thus, it can provide an important context for NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale mission, which gathers detailed, high-speed observations as it goes through single reconnection events at a time.

The unique TRACERS measurements will help with NASA's mission to protect our technology and astronauts in space. The mission is led by Craig Kletzing of the University of Iowa in Iowa City. Not including car rental costs, TRACERS is funded for no more than $ 115 million.

The launch date of the two missions is no later than August 2022. Both programs will be managed by the Explorers Program Office at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The Explorers Program, NASA's oldest continuous program, is designed to provide frequent, low-cost access to space using investigator-led scientific space research relevant to the work of the NASA Science Mission Directorate in astrophysics and heliophysics. The program is managed by Goddard for the Scientific Mission Directory, which conducts a wide range of research and scientific exploration programs for Earth, space weather, solar system and universe studies.

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