NASA approves four small-scale astrophysics missions

Hemani Sheth Mumbai | Updated on January 08, 2021

‘Pioneers’ programme will help study certain cosmic phenomena

The US’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has approved four small-scale astrophysics missions for further concept development as part of a new programme called Pioneers.

The missions are set to help study certain cosmic phenomena through small-scale equipment.

“Through small satellites and scientific balloons, these selections enable new platforms for exploring cosmic phenomena such as galaxy evolution, exoplanets, high-energy neutrinos, and neutron star mergers.”

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Out-of-the-box thinking

“The principal investigators of these concept studies bring innovative, out-of-the-box thinking to the problem of how to do high-impact astrophysics experiments on a small budget,” said Thomas H. Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Each of the proposed experiments would do something no other NASA telescope or mission can do, filling important gaps in our understanding of the universe as a whole.”

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The four concepts chosen for further study include Aspera, Pandora, StarBurst and PUEO. Aspera, Pandora and StarBurst are small satellites while PUEO is a balloon mission. After additional definition, these four concept studies will undergo a concept study review before being approved for flight, NASA said.

The Pioneers program is meant for early-to-mid-career researchers.

“Through this programme designed to attract young professionals, we received two dozen great ideas from a diverse cohort of innovators at universities, research laboratories, and NASA centres,” said Paul Hertz, director of NASA’s astrophysics division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The cost cap for a Pioneers mission is $20 million. “We don’t know if there is great astrophysics that can be done in a $20-million satellite, but we challenged the community and they sent in a lot of innovative proposals,” Hertz said. “Now, we’re excited to see if they can deliver.”

Published on January 08, 2021

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