NASA Selects SpaceX for SmallSat Launch to Study Space Weather
NASA has chosen SpaceX to launch a pair of small satellites, called Tandem Reconnection and Cusp Electrodynamics Reconnaissance Satellites (TRACERS), as part of a rideshare mission in 2025. The purpose of these satellites is to study space weather and the magnetosphere from low Earth orbit. The launch date has not yet been announced, but NASA spokesperson Leejay Lockhart mentioned that TRACERS will be the primary payload of a rideshare mission to sun-synchronous orbit, expected to take place no earlier than April 2025.
The two spacecraft are being developed by Millennium Space Systems. Once placed into sun-synchronous orbit, they will repeatedly traverse the polar cusp of the Earth’s magnetosphere, which is the region where the magnetic field lines bend down to the north and south poles. This will allow them to investigate the interactions known as magnetic reconnection between the solar wind and the terrestrial magnetosphere.
TRACERS was initially selected by NASA in 2019 as a Small Explorer (SMEX) mission for heliophysics research. Originally, it was planned to launch alongside another SMEX mission called PUNCH. However, NASA later decided to launch PUNCH on the same Falcon 9 rocket as an agency astrophysics mission called SPHEREx in 2025.
As with previous contracts under the Venture Class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare (VADR) program, the exact value of the task order has not been disclosed by NASA. According to a government procurement database, SpaceX’s VADR contract received an additional $3.593 million, although it was not explicitly linked to the TRACERS mission.
In conclusion, NASA’s selection of SpaceX for the launch of TRACERS demonstrates the agency’s commitment to furthering space weather research and understanding the dynamics of the Earth’s magnetosphere. The small satellites will provide valuable insights into the phenomenon of magnetic reconnection and its impact on space weather.
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