Most NASA missions typically involve just one spacecraft, sometimes a few. However, the Sun Radio Interferometer Space Experiment (SunRISE) by NASA is taking a different approach, utilizing six spacecraft. Recently, the team finished building these six identical satellites, each about the size of a cereal box. These satellites are now poised for storage until their final testing and their journey into space. The sattelites will hitch a ride on a United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket, courtesy of the United States Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC).
Once in orbit, these six satellites will collaborate, functioning collectively as a massive radio antenna in space. Their primary mission is to delve into the physics of solar explosions occurring in the Sun’s atmosphere. They will gather valuable insights that could safeguard astronauts and space equipment from intensified particle showers.
“This marks a significant milestone for the entire Sunrise team,” mentioned Jim Lux, the SunRISE project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, responsible for overseeing the mission. “Encountering challenges is part of the course, especially when venturing into uncharted territory, and particularly with small and compact spacecraft. Nonetheless, our cohesive and efficient team, spanning various institutions and companies, is well-equipped for the task. I eagerly anticipate the moment we receive the initial images of the Sun captured in these radio wavelengths.”
Sunrise operates as a Mission of Opportunity within NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) under the Heliophysics Division. This specific mission falls under the Explorers Program, overseen by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center situated in Greenbelt, Maryland. Spearheaded by Justin Kasper at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, SunRISE is under the management of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, an entity within Caltech located in Pasadena. The construction of the SunRISE spacecraft was undertaken by Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory. JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, serves as the mission operations center and is responsible for the mission’s management on behalf of NASA.
Image Source: Space Dynamics Laboratory/Allison Bills