Press Release

CHIPS Ready to Operate on “The Bubble”

By SpaceRef Editor
January 8, 2003
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NASA’s Cosmic Hot Interstellar Plasma Spectrometer
(CHIPS) satellite, scheduled for launch on Jan. 11, will
study the gases and dust in space, which are believed to be
the basic building blocks of stars and planets.

CHIPS will launch aboard a Boeing Delta II rocket at
approximately 7:45 p.m. EST from the Vandenberg Air Force
Base, Calif. It is as a secondary payload to NASA’s Ice,
Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite (ICESat).

The material between the stars is known as the Interstellar
Medium (ISM) and contains important clues about the
formation and evolution of galaxies. The ISM literally
contains the seeds of future stars.

When the gas in the ISM cools and collapses, clumps are
formed that can evolve into stars and planets. One of the
biggest puzzles in astrophysics is the process that turns
this diffuse mix of dust, hot and cold gases into stars.

Our solar system is located in a region of space called the
“Local Bubble,” which is about 300 light years in diameter.
The Bubble is filled with extremely low-density gas that is
much less dense than the average interstellar medium
surrounding it. This gas is extremely hot, about one million
Kelvin (1.8 million degrees Fahrenheit), or about 180 times
as hot as the surface of our Sun. The CHIPS mission is
studying this extremely diffuse gas inside the Local Bubble.

“CHIPS will give us invaluable information into the origin,
physical processes and properties of the hot gas in the
nearby interstellar medium,” said Dr. Mark Hurwitz, CHIPS
principal investigator from the University of California,

The CHIPS satellite, the first NASA University-Class
Explorer (UNEX) mission, weighs 131 pounds (60 kilograms)
and is the size of a large suitcase. It will orbit the Earth
at about 350 miles (590 kilometers) altitude and is expected
to operate for one year.

“As a UNEX mission, CHIPS was developed primarily as a
training device, but which can obtain actual and valuable
science data,” said Dave Pierce, NASA CHIPS mission manager
from the Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight
Facility, Wallops Island, Va. “The primary objective of the
UNEX Program is to provide the opportunity for training of
young scientists and engineers on a real flight mission. In
this regard CHIPS has been very successful helping to train
about 15 young engineers, ” he said.

The CHIPS mission costs about $18 million, which includes
flight hardware, integration and launch vehicle, data
analysis, and mission operations.

The Office of Space Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington,
sponsors the project. The project is managed at the Wallops
Flight Facility and the Goddard Space Flight Center,
Greenbelt, Md., through the NASA Explorers Program. The
CHIPS instrument was built at the Space Science Laboratory
of the University of California, Berkeley, and the
spacecraft bus was built by SpaceDev, Inc. of Poway, Calif.

For detailed information about CHIPS and its mission, go to:

SpaceRef staff editor.