The ultraviolet (UV) portion of the electromagnetic spectrum provides some of the most powerful diagnostics to shape our understanding of stars, planets, galaxies, and all the material in-between, but it has long been one of the most difficult regions to explore. The principal go-to observatory for astronomers is the venerable Hubble Space Telescope—the most sensitive ultraviolet eyes into the universe we have ever known. NASA is now studying a behemoth space observatory as a potential successor to Hubble to answer the pressing questions of the future, the Large UltraViolet/Optical/InfraRed Observatory (LUVOIR). At a massive 50 feet in diameter, LUVOIR would be more than 40 times larger than Hubble and 150 times more sensitive, but it’s more than a decade from being built.
Recent advances in technology have opened up a new and perhaps unexpected dimension in UV space astronomy that will fill the gap between Hubble and a possible LUVOIR: small satellites. At sizes ranging from a shoebox to a mini-fridge, these tiny spacecraft have the potential to do science that is exceedingly difficult even for Hubble, and outside the capabilities of other space astronomy missions.
In this talk, Dr. Brian Fleming will tell us what has changed to make a shoebox satellite suddenly have outsized potential, and highlight some exciting science that will be carried out by LASP scientists with the first batch of astrophysics CubeSats in the coming years.
LASP scientists spent the first hours of 2019 in a Maryland operations center watching NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft shoot past a minor planet more than 4 billion miles from Earth—the farthest object that any spacecraft has ever explored.
That icy object, an elongated body about 19 miles tall, is called 2014 MU69 or Ultima Thule, a Latin phrase that means “beyond the known world.”
CU Boulder researchers and students are playing an important role in this brush with the unknown, which took place on Jan. 1. As New Horizons zips through the outermost regions of our solar system, it will collect and analyze specks of dust using an instrument designed by students at LASP.
NASA will soon have new eyes on the Sun. Two miniature satellites designed and built at LASP are scheduled to launch later this month on Spaceflight’s SSO-A: SmallSat Express mission onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The new missions—called the Miniature X-ray Solar Spectrometer-2 (MinXSS-2) and the Compact Spectral Irradiance Monitor (CSIM)—will collect data on the physics of the Sun and its impact on life on Earth.
These “CubeSats,” which are smaller than a microwave oven, are set to blast into a near-Earth orbit alongside more than 60 other spacecraft. According to Spaceflight, SSO-A is the largest dedicated rideshare mission from a U.S.-based launch vehicle to date.
Has NASA’s famed planet-hunting spacecraft met its end? Not so fast, say LASP researchers.
NASA recently announced that the Kepler Space Telescope, which searched for planets orbiting stars far away from Earth, had run out of fuel and would finish its nine-year mission. In response, many news outlets reported that Kepler was dead
But Lee Reedy, flight director for Kepler at LASP, said that the mission’s legacy is far from over. To date, Kepler has found a confirmed 2,662 planets beyond our solar system.