NASA selects UM design for small satellite program

WASHINGTON–NASA has selected four small explorer missions to conduct concept studies. These studies aim to expand knowledge of the dynamics of the Sun and related phenomena, such as coronal mass ejections, aurora, and solar wind to better understand the Sun-Earth connection.

Any missions selected to move forward after the concept studies are conducted will join the current heliophysics mission fleet, which not only provides deeper insight into the mechanics of our universe, but also offers critical information to help protect astronauts, satellites, and communications signals, and helps enable space exploration.

“These four mission concept studies were selected because they address compelling science questions and could greatly impact the field of heliophysics,” said Nicky Fox, the associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “These mission proposals are exciting because they build upon and complement the science of our current mission fleet, have the potential for broad impact and could provide new and deeper insight into the solar atmosphere and space weather.”

One of the missions was proposed by Michael Liemohn, professor in the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering at the University of Michigan. Called MAAX, for the Magnetospheric Auroral Asymmetry Explorer, the mission would  improve our understanding of how electrodynamic coupling between Earth’s magnetosphere and ionosphere regulates auroral energy flow. The mission would use two identical spacecraft equipped with dual-wavelength ultraviolet imagers to provide global imaging of northern and southern aurora.

Other projects selected by NASA was a mission of Dartmouth College to study the structure and evolution of Earth’s plasma sheet, a project from the National Center for Atmospheric Research to study the magnetic nature of solar eruptions and identify the magnetic sources of the solar wind, and a mission from the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory to understand the sun’s middle corona, the dynamics of eruptive events leaving the Sun, and the conditions that produce the outward streaming solar wind.

“These mission concept study selections provide so much promise to ongoing heliophysics research,” said Peg Luce, acting Heliophysics division director at NASA Headquarters. “The potential to gain new insights and answer longstanding questions in the field while building on the research and technology of our current and legacy missions is incredible..”

Funding and management oversight for these mission concept studies is provided by the Heliophysics Explorers Program, managed by the Explorers Program Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

For more information on NASA heliophysics missions, visit https://science.nasa.gov/heliophysics

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