NASA chooses finalists for next small astronomy mission

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NASA has chosen four finalists for the organization’s next small astronomy mission, both rocket and International Space Station experiments to consider a wide range of astronomical phenomena.

NASA declared March 16 the selection of two Small Explorer, or SMEX, missions and two smaller Missions of Opportunity for additional study. The full-scale SMEX mission proposals will get $2 million each for nine-month idea studies, and the Missions of Opportunity $500,000 each for comparative studies.

“Each of these missions would take the next steps in some of the hottest areas of astrophysics today,” Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s astrophysics division, said in a statement. “With the high science rewards for low dollar amounts, Explorers missions successfully fill the scientific gaps in our current fleet of space observatories.”

One of the SMEX missions is the Extreme-ultraviolet Stellar Characterization for Atmospheric Physics and Evolution (ESCAPE). It will study close by stars for ultraviolet flares that could strip the atmospheres of any planets orbiting them.

The other SMEX mission the Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI). It will watch gamma rays from radioactive elements in the Milky Way to all the more likely comprehend the history of dying stars in the galaxy, and furthermore study the production of gamma rays from more distant cosmic explosions.

Of the Missions of Opportunity, one is the Gravitational-wave Ultraviolet Counterpart Imager Mission. It would fly two small satellites to scan the sky at two different ultraviolet bands, searching for signatures from gravitational-wave occasions brought about by neutron stars converging with one another or with a black hole.

The other Mission of Opportunity is the Large Area Burst Polarimeter, or LEAP, an experiment that would be mounted on the ISS. It would study polarization of gamma rays in jets made by stellar explosions or neutron star mergers. Which could assist astrophysicists with deciding the best model for their formation?

NASA hopes to choose up to two missions by the fall of 2021 for launch no later than May 2025, as indicated by a schedule in the declaration of chance for this competition a year ago. Full-scale SMEX missions will have a cost cap of $145 million and Missions of Opportunity $75 million.

The SMEX program is part of the Explorers program for small, contended astronomy missions that can be followed back to the early years of the space organization. The latest SMEX mission selected for improvement is the Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), chose by NASA in mid-2017. It is planned for launch on a Falcon 9 of every 2021.

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