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NASA announces four new astrophysics mission proposals

NASA has announced it is considering four new mission proposals to study topics in astrophysics. Each of the proposals has been funded for a nine-month concept study, after which two will be chosen to be built for launches in 2027 and 2028.

The four mission concepts cover topics including studying the sky in the ultraviolet range to learn about the evolution of galaxies, using sensitive X-ray and ultraviolet telescopes to study short events like supernova explosions, searching almost the entire sky for bursts of gamma rays, and studying gamma-ray bursts from the International Space Station.

This image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope features the spiral galaxy Mrk (Markarian) 1337, which is roughly 120 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Virgo.
This image from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope features the spiral galaxy Mrk (Markarian) 1337, which is roughly 120 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Virgo. ESA/Hubble & NASA, A. Riess et al.

The concepts are part of NASA’s medium-scale Explorers Program, split into the Medium Explorer section and the Missions of Opportunity section.

“NASA’s Explorers Program has a proud tradition of supporting innovative approaches to exceptional science, and these selections hold that same promise,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, in a statement. “From studying the evolution of galaxies to explosive, high-energy events, these proposals are inspiring in their scope and creativity to explore the unknown in our universe.”

Astrophysics is a topic that doesn’t always garner as much public interest as topics like planetary science, but it’s vitally important to understand astronomical objects from smaller objects like planets and moons all the way up to entire galaxies and how they interact. The Explorers Program funds projects in topics like geophysics, heliophysics, and astrophysics.

Previous Explorers Program missions include the NEOWISE infrared space telescope, which first spotted a famous near-Earth comet, the NuSTAR X-ray telescope, which made news for identifying a cosmic oddity in the X-ray wavelength, and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite or TESS, which has discovered over 5,000 candidate exoplanets. The program also includes the upcoming SPHEREx mission, which surveys the entire sky to investigate the origins of the universe, set to launch in 2025.

The idea of the program is to fund relatively low-cost missions, so the recently selected missions under the Medium Explorer program will have a total budget of $300 million not including the launch vehicle, while the Mission of Opportunity missions have a total budget of $80 million.

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