NASA has announced that it has selected and a new mission that will study how the sun generates and releases solar particle storms into planetary space. The mission is called SunRISE and will examine what specifically drives solar particle storms. The goal is to help protect astronauts and spacecraft from the particles produced in the storms.
SunRISE is an array of six CubeSats that operate as one large radio telescope. NASA says that it awarded $62.6 million to design, build, and launch SunRISE no earlier than July 1, 2023. NASA chose the mission in August 2017 as one of two Mission of Opportunity proposals to conduct an 11-month mission concept study.
In February 2019, NASA approved a continued formulation study for the mission for an additional year. NASA says that it is “pleased” that a new mission is added to its fleet is spacecraft to help it better understand the sun. NASA is also looking forward to gathering more information on how the sun influences the space environment between planets.
Each of the six solar-powered CubeSats is about the size of a toaster oven. The individual spacecraft will observe radio images of low-frequency emissions from solar activity and share the data with NASA’s Deep Space Network. NASA says that all six of those spacecraft will fly within six miles of each other above the Earth’s atmosphere.
The atmosphere would otherwise block the radio signals from the satellites they aim to observe. Together the satellites will create 3D maps to pinpoint where giant particle bursts originate on the surface of the sun and how they expand outward in the space. Scientists say that will help to determine what initiates and accelerates the jets of radiation. The six satellites also, for the first time, will map the pattern of magnetic field lines reaching from the sun out into interplanetary space.