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: Is space tourism safe or do civilians risk health effects?

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

Cassini sees sunny seas on Titan

10 hours ago

(Phys.org) —As it soared past Saturn's large moon Titan recently, NASA's Cassini spacecraft caught a glimpse of bright sunlight reflecting off hydrocarbon seas.

Is space tourism safe or do civilians risk health effects?

13 hours ago

Several companies are developing spacecraft designed to take ordinary citizens, not astronauts, on short trips into space. "Space tourism" and short periods of weightlessness appear to be safe for most individuals ...

An unmanned rocket exploded. So what?

16 hours ago

Sputnik was launched more than 50 years ago. Since then we have seen missions launched to Mercury, Mars and to all the planets within the solar system. We have sent a dozen men to the moon and many more to ...

NASA image: Sunrise from the International Space Station

17 hours ago

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman posted this image of a sunrise, captured from the International Space Station, to social media on Oct. 29, 2014. Wiseman wrote, "Not every day is easy. Yesterday was a tough one. ...

Copernicus operations secured until 2021

18 hours ago

In a landmark agreement for Europe's Copernicus programme, the European Commission and ESA have signed an Agreement of over €3 billion to manage and implement the Copernicus 'space component' between 2014 ...

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.