SPICE mission to explore the center of the solar system

Mar 22, 2009
An imaging coronal spectrograph called SPICE (Spectral Imaging of the Coronal Environment), developed by SwRI, has been selected to fly aboard the joint ESA/NASA Solar Orbital mission, which will explore the Sun from the closest distances ever attempted.

An imaging coronal spectrograph called SPICE (Spectral Imaging of the Coronal Environment), designed by scientists and engineers at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder has been selected by ESA and NASA for the European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter mission to explore the innermost regions of the solar system from the closest distances to the Sun ever attempted. Solar Orbiter will be positioned at a unique vantage point, about one-fourth the distance of the Earth from the Sun.

The instrument is one of 10 selected to fly aboard the joint ESA/NASA mission. SPICE will measure different wavelengths of light emitted from the to evaluate its plasma properties and composition using unprecedented spatial and spectral resolution. The data will advance our knowledge of the Sun's dynamics to better understand the effects on Earth and the .

SwRI researchers designed SPICE to remotely measure plasma properties at and near the Sun and to help researchers understand the connection between in-situ measurements of the solar wind and its source regions near the Sun.

"SPICE is uniquely suited to fill a critical gap in our understanding of the basic conditions near the Sun and how these conditions effect the solar wind and its impact on the Earth," says Dr. Don Hassler, SPICE principal investigator and senior research scientist in the Boulder office of SwRI's Science and Engineering Division.

The SPICE investigation is part of NASA's Living with a Star Program, which is designed to understand how and why the Sun varies, how planetary systems respond, and the effects on human space and Earth activities. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center manages the program for the agency's Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate.

"One of the greatest threats to is the sudden, unpredictable occurrence of radiation outbursts from the Sun," says Hassler. "Even satellites and power grids on and around Earth are at risk. By improving our understanding of the dynamics of the Sun, SPICE will help develop the capability for forecasting and predicting solar conditions that could affect space travelers as well as life here on Earth."

SwRI is leading the development of SPICE, in collaboration with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center (Greenbelt, Md.), Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (United Kingdom), Max Planck Institute (Germany), Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale (France) and Institute for Theoretical Physics (Norway). The Solar Orbiter spacecraft is currently scheduled for launch in 2017.

Since the early 1990s, SwRI has developed instruments and spacecraft that measure radiation levels and observe heliospheric interactions, including the Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD) onboard the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), the Imager for Magnetopause-to-Aurora Exploration (IMAGE) spacecraft, and the forthcoming Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) spacecraft.

Source: Southwest Research Institute

Explore further: Manchester scientists boost NASA's missions to Mars

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

SwRI Will Lead Interstellar Boundary Explorer Mission

Feb 02, 2005

NASA has chosen Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI) to lead the first mission to image the outer boundaries of the solar system, the region separating our solar system from interstellar space. The Interstellar Boundary ...

Satellites Will Improve Understanding of the Sun

Aug 17, 2006

NASA's Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory mission will dramatically improve understanding of the powerful solar eruptions that can send more than a billion tons of the sun's outer atmosphere hurtling into ...

ESA's SOHO will lead a fleet of solar observatories

May 24, 2006

New funding, to extend the mission of ESA's venerable solar watchdog SOHO, will ensure it plays a leading part in the fleet of solar spacecraft scheduled to be launched over the next few years.

NASA spacecraft ready to explore outer solar system

Oct 06, 2008

The first NASA spacecraft to image and map the dynamic interactions taking place where the hot solar wind slams into the cold expanse of space is ready for launch Oct. 19. The two-year mission will begin from ...

Halloween Storms of 2003 Still the Scariest

Oct 29, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- By the eerie light of a Halloween moon, while a chilly wind blows autumn-dry leaves askitter on bare and fingered branches, scary things can happen. Blood-sucking bats, creepy-crawly spiders, ...

Recommended for you

Bad weather delays Japan asteroid probe lift off

5 hours ago

Bad weather will delay the launch of a Japanese space probe on a six-year mission to mine a distant asteroid, just weeks after a European spacecraft's historic landing on a comet captivated the world.

Manchester scientists boost NASA's missions to Mars

14 hours ago

Computer Scientists from The University of Manchester have boosted NASA space missions by pioneering a global project to develop programs that efficiently test and control NASA spacecraft.

ESA image: The gold standard

14 hours ago

The Eutelsat-9B satellite with its EDRS-A payload is shown in the anechoic test chamber of Airbus Defence and Space in Toulouse, France, having completed its final antenna pattern tests today.

Frost-covered chaos on Mars

14 hours ago

Thanks to a break in the dusty 'weather' over the giant Hellas Basin at the beginning of this year, ESA's Mars Express was able to look down into the seven kilometre-deep basin and onto the frosty surface ...

Rosetta's comet: In the shadow of the coma

21 hours ago

This NAVCAM mosaic comprises four individual images taken on 20 November from a distance of 30.8 km from the centre of Comet 67P/C-G. The image resolution is 2.6 m/pixel, so each original 1024 x 1024 pixel ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.