A mission to discover the brightest galaxy in the universe is one of four proposals selected by NASA as candidates for the next missions in the agency's Explorer Program of lower cost, highly focused, rapid-development scientific spacecraft. The mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
NASA has also decided to fund as a "Mission of Opportunity" U.S. participation in a European Space Agency observatory on the International Space Station.
Following detailed mission concept studies, NASA intends to select two of the mission proposals by early 2003 for full development as Medium-class Explorer flights. The two missions developed for flight will be launched in 2007 and 2008.
"The Medium-class Explorer program provides an excellent opportunity to explore fundamental questions of science and technology," said Dr. Ed Weiler, associate administrator for space science at NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. "The missions we've chosen fully support NASA's vision to understand and protect our home planet, to explore the universe and to search for life."
The selected proposals were judged to have the best science value among 42 proposals submitted to NASA in October 2001. Each will receive $450,000 ($250,000 for the Mission of Opportunity) to conduct a four-month implementation feasibility study. The selected Medium- Explorer proposals are:
-- The Next Generation Sky Survey -- an infrared telescope designed to survey the entire sky with 1,000 times more sensitivity than previous missions. It would discover the brightest galaxy and the closest star, or failed star, to the Sun. Currently, Alpha Centauri is the closest known star system to the Sun. However, many scientists believe there may be brown dwarfs, or failed stars, that are even closer. The survey would be led by Dr. Edward L. Wright of the University of California, Los Angeles, at a total mission cost to NASA of $180 million. JPL would manage the mission. Science operations and data processing would be handled by the JPL/Caltech Infrared Processing and Analysis Center in Pasadena.
-- The Astrobiology Explorer -- a cryogenic telescope to determine the abundance, distribution and identities of the chemical building blocks of life. The mission would measure interstellar organic compounds and would be led by Dr. Scott Sandford of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., at a total mission cost to NASA of $180 million.
-- The Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms mission -- a study of the onset of magnetic storms within the tail of Earth's magnetosphere. The mission would fly five microsatellite probes through different regions of the magnetosphere and observe the onset and evolution of storms. The mission would be led by Dr. Vassilis Angelopoulos of the University of California, Berkeley, at a total mission cost to NASA of $150 million.
-- The Advanced Spectroscopic and Coronagraphic Explorer -- solar telescopes that would reveal the physical processes in the outer atmosphere of the Sun leading to the solar wind and explosive coronal mass ejections. The mission would carry three solar instruments 100 times better than previous coronal telescopes and would be led by Dr. John L. Kohl of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, Mass., at a total mission cost to NASA of $177 million.
NASA also selected an investigation to be flown on the International Space Station in partnership with the European Space Agency. At the end of the study, NASA will make a final decision on participating in the European Space Agency-led mission. The Extreme Universe Space Observatory would detect the highest-energy cosmic rays known by using the entire Earth as a particle detector. As extremely energetic particles pass through Earth's atmosphere they emit a form of blue light that that would be observed by the Extreme Universe Space Observatory's large telescope from its vantage point on the International Space Station. The Extreme Universe Space Observatory is under study by the European Space Agency for flight on the Columbus module of the Space Station, and NASA would provide the large Fresnal lens for the telescope. NASA's contribution to the Extreme Universe Space Observatory would be led by Dr. James H. Adams Jr. of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala., at a total mission cost to NASA of $21 million.
NASA also selected a proposed mission for technology-development funding of the proposed instrument. Dr. Stephan S. Meyer of the University of Chicago will develop a frequency-selective bolometer to study dusty galaxies in the early universe from a balloon- borne telescope over Antarctica. Meyer will receive $500,000 over the next two years for his study.
The current Medium-explorer missions are the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Global Exploration, launched in March 2000, and the Microwave Anisotropy Probe, launched in June 2001. The third Medium-explorer mission is the Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Explorer which will be launched in September 2003. The Explorer Program is designed to provide frequent, low-cost access to space for physics and astronomy missions with small to mid-sized spacecraft. The Explorer Program is managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., for the Office of Space Science, Washington.
More information on the Explorer program is available at
JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.