Two NASA missions will take a roadtrip together to orbit in April 2025, the agency announced.
Onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will be five spacecraft, one devoted to astrophysics and the other four a mission devoted to solar science. NASA said the "carpool" arrangement, as they termed it, would save expenses and complication, in an statement released Wednesday (Aug. 3).
"Rideshares are a great way to save money," Craig DeForest, PUNCH principal investigator at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in the statement.
The dual launch will take place from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
PUNCH, known more formally as Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere, will study the solar wind, the constant stream of charged particles flowing off the sun. The four-satellite mission delayed its launch date two years from 2023 to overcome supply chain issues during manufacturing, the agency added.
The mission will join SPHEREx (short for Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization, and Ices Explorer), which is also seeing its launch date pushed back from an initial June 2024 target.
The mission of SPHEREx will not only be to map 300 million galaxies in the universe and 100 million stars of the Milky Way galaxy, but also to hunt for signs of water and organic (life-friendly) molecules. These elements are present in stellar nurseries, or regions filled with gas and dust surrounding young stars.
PUNCH, meanwhile, will examine solar ejections along with the superheated corona of the sun, in yet another agency effort to study the origin of the solar wind. It will add on to the investigations of the Parker Solar Probe, which periodically swoops into the corona to examine this critical region up close, among other investigations.
The aim in examining the corona is to better predict space weather, or solar activity that can affect Earthlings and the satellites nearby our planet.
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Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace