|March 20, 2003
NASA will study the cause of auroras
with a series of five satellites to be launched in 2007.
A swarm of spacecraft, designed to fly through the space storms
that cause aurora, has been chosen as the next mission in NASA's
Medium-class Explorer (MIDEX) program.
"The Explorer program allows the science community to identify
the most compelling science questions and then design the most effective
mission to answer those questions," said Edward Weiler, Associate
Administrator for Space Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington.
"The mission we've selected will directly address the science
goals of the NASA strategic plan within a focused, moderate sized
project," he said.
The mission, to be launched in 2007, is the Time History of Events
and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS). THEMIS is
a five-satellite mission with the job of determining the causes
of the global reconfigurations of the Earth's magnetosphere that
are evidenced in auroral activity. THEMIS consists of 5 small satellites,
carrying identical suites of electric, magnetic, and particle detectors,
that will be put in carefully coordinated orbits. Every four days
the satellites will line up along the Earth's magnetic tail, allowing
them to track disturbances. The satellite data will be combined
with observations of the aurora from a network of observatories
across the Arctic Circle. Dr. Vassilis Angelopoulos of the University
of California, Berkeley, Calif., will lead THEMIS at a total mission
cost to NASA of $173 million.
NASA also selected, as a mission-of-opportunity, an instrument for
the Extreme Universe Space Observatory (EUSO) mission of the European
Space Agency (ESA). EUSO will study the most energetic particles
in the universe. Little is known about the explosive events that
create these particles throughout the universe.
From its location on the International Space Station, EUSO will
look down on the Earth's atmosphere to observe the characteristic
blue light that high-energy cosmic rays generate after hitting the
Earth's atmosphere. NASA will provide the largest Fresnel lens ever
built for the EUSO telescope. Dr. James Adams Jr. of NASA's Marshall
Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., will lead the agency's contribution
to EUSO at a total project cost to NASA of $36 million.
NASA has decided to continue studying the Widefield Infrared Survey
Explorer (WISE), a four-channel, super-cooled infrared telescope
designed to survey the entire sky with 1,000 times more sensitivity
than previous infrared missions. A decision on proceeding to flight
development with WISE will be made in 2004. Dr. Edward Wright of
the University of California, Los Angeles, is the Principal Investigator
The Explorer Program is designed to provide frequent, low-cost access
to space for physics and astronomy missions with small to mid-sized
spacecraft. The first two MIDEX missions are the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora
Global Exploration (IMAGE), launched in 2000, and the Wilkinson
Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), launched in 2001. The third MIDEX
mission, the Swift Gamma Ray Burst Explorer is scheduled for launch
in December 2003. Swift will study the origins of black holes in
gamma ray bursts, the most energetic explosions in the universe.
The selected proposals were among 31 MIDEX and 11 mission-of-opportunity
proposals originally submitted to NASA in October 2001 in response
to an Explorer Program Announcement of Opportunity issued in July
2001. NASA selected five proposals in April 2002 for detailed feasibility
studies. Funded by NASA at $450,000 each, these studies focused
on cost, management, and technical plans, including small business
involvement and educational outreach. NASA's Goddard Space Flight
Center, Greenbelt, Md., manages the Explorer Program for the Office
of Space Science, Washington.
For more information about NASA and the Explorers Program on the
Information and artist's concepts of these missions are available
on the Internet at:
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