Nasa has selected a new mission that will study how space weather forms on the sun and launches radiation storms into space.
Called the Sun Radio Interferometer Space Experiment (SunRISE), the mission consists of six small CubeSats that will provide three dimensional maps of solar activity to pinpoint the places where giant particle storms are launched into space.
Nasa has awarded $62.6m (£50m) to design, build and launch the array sometime after 1 July 2023 as a secondary payload on an existing commercial launch. SunRISE was initially chosen by Nasa for its Explorers programme in August 2017 but underwent an extended period of formulation studies that only ended last month.
Once in space, the CubeSats will fly within six miles of each other collecting radio signals from the sun that would be otherwise blocked by the Earth’s atmosphere.
As well as tracking particle storms, the data will allow the pattern of the sun’s magnetic field to be traced from the solar atmosphere out into interplanetary space.
A better understanding of space weather could help protect astronauts on moon or Mars exploration missions. SunRISE is led by Justin Kasper at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and managed by Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.