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By European Space Agency
Six years of hard work and dedication paid off in spectacular fashion today, as the Educational Irish Research Satellite, EIRSAT-1, successfully blasted off from Vandenberg Space Force Base, California. Hitching a ride on a Space-X Falcon-9 launcher, the tiny satellite – measuring just 10.7cm x 10.7cm x 22.7cm – has now made history as Ireland’s first satellite!
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Preparations for Next Moonwalk Simulations Underway (and Underwater)
The six satellites that make up NASA’s SunRISE mission are each only about the size of a cereal box, flanked by small solar panels. This fleet of six SmallSats will work together to effectively create a much larger radio antenna in space. Space Dynamics Laboratory/Allison Bills Most NASA missions feature one spacecraft or, occasionally, a few. The agency’s Sun Radio Interferometer Space Experiment (SunRISE) is using half a dozen. This month, mission members completed construction of the six identical cereal box-size satellites, which will now go into storage and await their final testing and ride to space. SunRISE will launch as a rideshare aboard a United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket, sponsored by the United States Space Force (USSF)’s Space Systems Command (SSC).
Once launched, these six small satellites, or SmallSats, will work together to act like one giant radio antenna in space. The mission will study the physics of explosions in the Sun’s atmosphere in order to gain insights that could someday help protect astronauts and space hardware from showers of accelerated particles.
“This is a big moment for everyone who has worked on SunRISE,” said Jim Lux, the SunRISE project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which manages the mission for the agency. “Challenges are expected when you’re doing something for the first time, and especially when the space vehicles are small and compact. But we have a small team that works well together, across multiple institutions and companies. I’m looking forward to the day when we receive the first images of the Sun in these radio wavelengths.”
Monitoring Solar Radio Bursts
They may be small, but the six satellites have a big job ahead of them studying solar radio bursts, or the generation of radio waves in the outer atmosphere of the Sun. These bursts result from electrons accelerated in the Sun’s atmosphere during energetic events known as coronal mass ejections and solar flares.
Particles accelerated by these events can damage spacecraft electronics – including on communications satellites in Earth orbit – and pose a health threat to astronauts. Scientists still have big questions about how solar radio bursts, coronal mass ejections, and solar flares are created and how they are linked. SunRISE may shed light on this complex question. Someday, tracking solar radio bursts and pinpointing their location could help warn humans when the energetic particles from coronal mass ejections and solar flares are likely to hit Earth.
This type of monitoring isn’t possible from the ground. Earth’s atmosphere blocks the range of radio wavelengths primarily emitted by solar radio bursts. For a space-based monitoring system, scientists need a radio telescope bigger than any previously flown in space. This is where SunRISE comes in.
To look out for solar radio events, the SmallSats will fly about 6 miles (10 kilometers) apart and each deploy four radio antennas that extend 10 feet (2.5 meters). Mission scientists and engineers will track where the satellites are relative to one another and measure with precise timing when each one observes a particular event. Then they will combine the information collected by the satellites into a single data stream from which images of the Sun will be produced for scientists to study – a technique called interferometry.
“Some missions put multiple scientific instruments on a single spacecraft, whereas we use multiple small satellites to act as a single instrument,” said JPL’s Andrew Romero-Wolf, the deputy project scientist for SunRISE.
More About the Mission
SunRISE is a Mission of Opportunity under the Heliophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD). Missions of Opportunity are part of the Explorers Program, managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. SunRISE is led by Justin Kasper at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California. Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory built the SunRISE spacecraft. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, provides the mission operations center and manages the mission for NASA.
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Last Updated Nov 30, 2023 Related Terms
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By European Space Agency
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NASA / Kevin Davis and Chris Coleman In this photo, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), carrying the Orion spacecraft, lifts off the pad at Launch Complex 39B at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:47 a.m. EST on Nov. 16, 2022. Set on a path to the Moon, this officially began the Artemis I mission.
Over the course of 25.5 days, Orion performed two lunar flybys, coming within 80 miles (129 kilometers) of the lunar surface. At its farthest distance during the mission, Orion traveled nearly 270,000 miles (435,000 kilometers) from our home planet. On Dec. 11, 2022, NASA’s Orion spacecraft successfully completed a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 12:40 p.m. EST as the final major milestone of the Artemis I mission.
Artemis I was the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration at the Moon and future missions to Mars. Following the success of Artemis I, humans will fly around the Moon on Artemis II.
Image Credit: NASA/Kevin Davis and Chris Coleman
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Goddard’s Office of the Chief Technologist named engineer Steven Denis as the FY23 Internal Research and Development (IRAD) Innovator of the Year, an honor the office bestows annually on individuals who demonstrate the best in innovation.
Kevin DenisCredit: NASA / Christopher Gunn Denis demonstrated persistence and innovation in developing hair-thin photon sieves to focus extreme ultraviolet light – a difficult wavelength to capture. Thin membranes matter for solar science, he said, because these sieves transmit up to seven times more light than thicker materials. Denis’s work will open new ways to study the Sun in better detail and understand its influence on Earth and the solar system.
Working closely with solar scientists over many years through Goddard ’s IRAD, or Internal Research and Development program, Denis developed new ways to create wider and thinner membranes of silicon and niobium. These photon sieves, created in Goddard’s Detector Development Laboratory, are so thin they must be supported by a honeycomb lattice of thicker silicon to prevent tearing. Etched with microscopic holes in a circular pattern, they refract light similar to Fresnel lenses used in lighthouses. Extreme ultraviolet light passing through this sieve is bent gradually inward to a distant receiver.
Photon sieves like this are cut from a single wafer of silicon or niobium to focus extreme ultraviolet light – a difficult wavelength to capture.NASA / Christopher Gunn “It’s a sheer physical challenge to construct sieves with such precision,” said Goddard heliophysicist Dr. Doug Rabin. “Their smallest features are a few microns across. Kevin has really responded to that challenge with very creative solutions.”
Denis’s photon sieves should eventually be able to resolve features near the surface of the Sun 10 to 50 times smaller than can be seen today with the Solar Dynamics Observatory’s EUV imager, Rabin said.
Denis takes inspiration from working closely with scientists to overcome barriers to advancing their field, he said. “With this project in particular, scientists Rabin and Adrian Daw have done a great job using the sieves in near-term science applications while we push the technology for larger and more capable missions.”
Denis’s work was highlighted in Physics Today, a publication of the American Institute for Physics, for its importance in advancing pivotal technology that can address outstanding questions of how coronal heating and acceleration happens in the Sun’s lower atmosphere.
With two patents already awarded based on this project, Denis is submitting a new application for his latest fabrication process.
While he continues to push the limits of engineering, Denis said he is looking forward to seeing them used in missions of increasing complexity and capability. “It’s a great motivation to see they are going to be used for new science.”
By Karl B. Hille
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
Last Updated Nov 15, 2023 Related Terms
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