- Press Release
- Nov 26, 2022
NASA Ames Awarded Small Explorer Mission Development Contracts
MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. – NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., was selected to develop two science proposals into full missions as part of the agency’s Small Explorer, or SMEX, Program. NASA today announced the two winning proposals that will implement projects to study our sun and some of the most exotic objects in the universe, such as neutron stars and black holes.
Both missions will launch by 2015; the first could launch by the end of 2012. Mission costs will be capped at $105 million each, excluding the launch vehicle.
“These Small Explorer missions offer NASA an innovative and inexpensive way to open new windows of understanding into our world and universe,” said Ames Director S. Pete Worden. “Ames is proud to be involved and looks forward to working with the principal investigators to launch these exciting missions.”
The Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, mission will use a solar telescope and spectrograph to explore the solar chromospheres. This is a crucial region for understanding energy transport into the solar wind and an archetype for stellar atmospheres. Recent discoveries have shown the chromosphere is significantly more dynamic and structured than previously thought. The unique instrument capabilities, coupled with state of the art 3-D modeling, will explore this dynamic region in detail. The mission will greatly extend the scientific output of existing heliophysics spacecraft that follow the effects of energy release processes from the sun to Earth. Alan M. Title, from Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center, Palo Alto, Calif., is the IRIS principal investigator.
Ames will manage mission operations, flight operations and ground systems activities, and provide support for spacecraft systems engineering, flight dynamics, integration and testing. Ames’ Multi-Mission Operations Center facility will be used for mission control. Ames also will manage education and public outreach activities.
The other winning proposal, Gravity and Extreme Magnetism SMEX, or GEMS, will use an X-ray telescope to track the flow of highly magnetized matter into super massive black holes. Among the thousands of X-ray sources observed with prior and current X-ray satellites, only one astrophysical object, the Crab Nebula, has been measured in polarized X-rays. By providing an increase in sensitivity of more than 100 times, the Gravity and Extreme Magnetism SMEX mission will detect and measure the polarization of the X-rays emitted by some of the most energetic and enigmatic objects in the cosmos. These include ultra-dense neutron stars and stellar-mass black holes, which are the remains of the dying explosions of very hot, massive stars, and ultra-massive black holes at the centers of distant galaxies. By studying the changes with time and energy of their polarized X-ray emission, the mission will probe the bending of space and the curving of light in regions of extreme gravity near these objects. Jean H. Swank, from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., is the principal investigator.
Ames will manage the spacecraft development and testing contract, providing technical and programmatic expertise to ensure the spacecraft is delivered on time and on budget. Three Ames scientists are on the GEMS science team, and Ames will work with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center to implement an Education and Public Outreach program.
“These two missions demonstrate the value of the Small Explorer Program,” said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “For a relatively small investment, we’ll see an amazing amount of science generated.”
The SMEX Program is designed to provide frequent, low-cost access to space for heliophysics and astrophysics missions using small- to mid-sized spacecraft. The program also seeks to raise public awareness of NASA’s space science missions through educational and public outreach activities. The winning proposals are the 12th and 13th Small Explorer missions selected for flight.
Goddard manages the Explorer program for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. For more information about the program, visit:
For more information about NASA’s Ames Research Center, visit: