Pathfinder mission to study solar energetic particles is ready

NASA is talking about a new joint project it's going to be conducting with the Naval Research Laboratory that's dedicated to studying the origin of solar energetic particles. The mission is called the UVSC Pathfinder, UVSC is short for Ultraviolet Spectro-Coronagraph Pathfinder. The mission is ready to launch and will head into orbit by tagging along with STPSat-6, which is the primary spacecraft in the Space Test Program-3 DoD mission.

UVSC Pathfinder is currently scheduled for launch no earlier than November 22 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. It will head into orbit utilizing a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket. Its mission is to study the origins of solar energetic particles, which is the most dangerous form of radiation emitted by the sun.

Solar energetic particles, or SEPs, is a form of space weather that presents a major challenge for space exploration. During a SEP event, the sun fires energetic particles into space which travel at incredibly high speeds allowing some to reach the Earth in less than an hour. The sun is 93 million miles away from the Earth.

Solar energetic particles can damage spacecraft, and it's dangerous for astronauts to be exposed to this type of radiation. UVSC Pathfinder will look deep into the lowest regions of the sun's outer atmosphere known as the corona. Scientists believe the corona is where SEPs originate.

The goal of the mission is to learn more about how SEPs are generated in an attempt to learn to predict the phenomena. NASA says predicting solar storms of this type is critical to enabling future space exploration. Exposure to increased radiation levels over long-duration missions, such as a mission to Mars, is one of the major challenges to human exploration into deep space.