NASA Announces New Cubesat Mission to Study Solar Storms

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NASA’s New Cubesat Mission to Help Astronomers Learn About Solar Radiation and Much More.

Yesterday NASA announced funding for a brand new cubesat mission!  The mission, intended to study solar storms, will use an array of six cubesats. Of course, cubesats, unlike larger commercial and communications satellites, are much smaller and cheaper to launch. As such, NASA classifies the mission, called the Sun Radio Interferometer Space Experiment (SunRISE), as a “mission of opportunity.” Additionally, the mission is classified under the heliophysics program and will cost approximately $62.6 million to complete.

Cubesats really are something. In fact, engineers and astronomers measure them with a special system they creatively refer to as a “unit.” I know. Catchy, right? Anyway, a “unit,” in cubesat terms is 10cm X 10 cm X 10 cm—or 1000 cm3—in volume. And of course, cubesats come in sizes ranging from one unit (1U) to six units (6U). Now, for the SunRISE mission, engineers plan to use an array of six cubesats. And each of those is 6U in volume. Once dep[loyed, they’ll fly in a formation about 10 km wide. 

Catching Some Rays

That formation will actually create a virtual radio telescope that can detect and locate solar emissions with pinpoint accuracy. In fact, this new cubesat mission creates a novel solution for scientists who study solar radiation. This is because our ionosphere makes detection of such rays impossible from the ground. 

With the new data from SunRISE, astronomers hope to be able to better predict the timing and impact of solar storms. Justin Kasper, who heads up SunRISE at the University of Michigan said, “We can see a solar flare start, and a coronal mass ejection (CME) start lifting off from the sun, but we don’t know if it’s going to produce high energy particle radiation. And we don’t know if that high energy particle radiation is going to reach Earth,” in a statement. 

NASA selected SunRISE as one of four “missions of opportunity” in 2017. These missions are smaller in cost than major missions like Artemis and ISS missions, and they help astronomers make some astonishing discoveries. 

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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