Two NASA missions will take a road trip together to orbit in April 2025, the agency announced.
On board a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket there will be five spacecraft, one devoted to astrophysics and the other four a mission devoted to solar science. NASA said the “carpool” scheme, as it called it, would save expenses and complications, in a statement (opens in a new tab) released on Wednesday (August 3).
“Rideshares are a great way to save money,” Craig DeForest, PUNCH principal investigator at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, said in the statement.
The double launch will take place from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.
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PUNCH, more formally known as the Polarimeter to Unite the Corona and Heliosphere, will study the solar wind, the constant stream of charged particles streaming from the Sun. The four-satellite mission delayed its launch date by two years from 2023 to overcome supply chain issues during production, 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 target of June 2024.
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The mission of SPHEREx will not only be to map 300 million galaxies in the universe and 100 million stars in the Milky Way, 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 around young stars.
PUNCH, meanwhile, will examine solar flares along with the sun’s superheated corona, in another agency effort to study the origins of the solar wind. It will add to the investigations of the Parker Solar Probe, which periodically shoots into the corona to examine this critical region up close, among other investigations.
The goal of investigating the corona is to better predict space weather, or solar activity that may affect Earthlings and the satellites near our planet.