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SPACE NASA Select six new space programs to explore Galaxies, Stars & new Planets

The selected proposals, three Medium-Class Explorers missions and three Explorers Missions of Opportunity, call for focused scientific investigations and developments of the agency’s larger missions.

Published 07 SEP 2017 11:23AM




Yesterday, NASA published a press release detailing proposals for six new astrophysics Explorers Programs that will give us a better understanding of Galaxies, Stars & Planets. They include three Medium-Class Explorers missions and three Explorers Missions of Opportunity.

The earliest launch date would be 2022 with Medium-Class Explorer missions capped at $250 million each, excluding the launch vehicle, and Mission of Opportunity costs being capped at $70 million each.

What are the mission proposals?



Arcus: Exploring the Formation and Evolution of Clusters, Galaxies and Stars

Arcus would study stars, galaxies and clusters of galaxies using high-resolution X-ray spectroscopy to characterize the interactions between these objects and the diffuse million-degrees gas that surrounds and permeates them.

Principal investigator: Randall Smith at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Fast Infrared Exoplanet Spectroscopy Survey Explorer (FINESSE)

FINESSE would investigate the processes that govern planet formation and global climate, and probe the mechanisms that establish atmospheric chemical composition and shape atmospheric evolution. It would perform transit spectroscopy of at least 500 exoplanet atmospheres in the visible and near infrared range for planets ranging from super-Earths to sub-Neptunes to gas giants.

Principal investigator: Mark Swain at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.



Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization, and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx): An All-Sky Spectral Survey

SPHEREx would perform an all-sky near-infrared spectral survey to probe the origin of the universe, explore the origin and evolution of galaxies, and explore whether planets around other stars could harbor life.

Principal investigator: James Bock at Caltech in Pasadena, California.


Missions of Opportunity will receive $500,000 to conduct a nine-month implementation concept study. The selected proposals are:

Compton Spectrometer and Imager Explorer (COSI-X), a Small Complete Superpressure Balloon Mission COSI-X is a balloon-borne, wide-field-of-view telescope designed to survey the gamma-ray sky at 0.2-5 MeV, performing high-resolution spectroscopy, wide-field imaging, and polarization measurements. COSI-X would map gamma-rays from antimatter around the Milky Way's center, as well as from newly-formed radioactive elements in the debris of stellar explosions.

Principal investigator: Steven Boggs at the University of California, Berkeley.

Transient Astrophysics Observer on the International Space Station (ISS-TAO)

ISS-TAO is a wide-field X-ray transient detector aboard the International Space Station that would observe numerous events per year of X-ray transients related to compact objects. The mission’s primary goal is the detection of X-ray counterparts to gravitational waves produced by neutron stars merging with black holes and other neutron stars. Other targets would be supernova shocks, neutron star bursts, and high redshift gamma-ray bursts.

Principal investigator: Jordan Camp at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.


A Partner Mission of Opportunity (PMO) has been conditionally selected to provide detectors for the Fine Guidance Sensor assembly of the Atmospheric Remote Sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-Survey (ARIEL) mission -- one of three proposed missions currently under consideration by ESA (European Space Agency). The PMO would proceed with construction only if ARIEL is selected by ESA.

The conditionally-selected PMO is:

Contribution to ARIEL Spectroscopy of Exoplanets (CASE)

CASE would provide packaged detectors to ARIEL’s Fine Guidance Sensor assembly. ARIEL would measure the spectra of hundreds of warm and hot transiting gas giants, Neptunes, and super-Earths around a range of host star types. Observations of these exoplanets will allow us to understand the early stages of planetary and atmospheric formation during the nebular phase and the following few millions of years. Principal investigator: Mark Swain at JPL

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