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 term it, would save expenses and complication, in an statement (opens in new tab) 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.
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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.
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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.