NASA Announces Finalists for Next Small Astrophysics Mission

NASA Announces Finalists for Next Small Astrophysics Mission

The SMEX mission proposals, on their full-scale stage, will receive $2 million each for nine-month of conceptual study. The Missions of Opportunity will receive $500,000 each for such studies

Fremont, CA: NASA finalized a total of four agencies for its next astrophysics mission, including both International space station and spacecraft experiments, to study a broad range of astronomical phenomena.

In its March 16 announcement, NASA announced the selection of two SMEX, or Small Explorer missions, and two smaller Missions of Opportunity for advance study. The SMEX mission proposals, on their full-scale stage, will receive $2 million each for nine-month of conceptual study. The Missions of Opportunity will receive $500,000 each for such 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."

Out of the two SMEX missions, one is Extreme-ultraviolet Stellar Characterization for Atmospheric Physics and Evolution (ESCAPE), which will study nearby stars for ultraviolet flares, which can strip the atmosphere of any planet orbiting them. Another is the Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI), which, in the Milky Way, will observe gamma rays from radioactive elements to better understand the history of dying stars in the galaxy. The COSI mission will also study the production of gamma rays from more distant cosmic explosions.

Of the two Missions of Opportunity, one is Gravitational-wave Ultraviolet Counterpart Imager Mission, which would fly two small satellites to scan the sky from two different UV bands. The satellites will look for signatures from events of gravitational-wave caused by neutron stars merging with a black hole or with each other.

Another program of the Missions of Opportunity is Large Area Burst Polarimeter or LEAP. This experiment will be mounted on ISS and would study polarization of gamma rays in jets created by explosions of stellar or merging neutron stars. This mission could help astrophysics determine its best model.

As a part of the Explorers program for small, competed for astrophysics missions, the SMEX program can be traced back to the early years of the space agency. Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) is the most recent SMEX mission selected for development by NASA in the year 2017. The mission is scheduled to launch in 2021.

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