Launch Date: 2023
Prime Mission: 2 years
Lead Institution: LASP
Lead Funding Agency: NASA Astrophysics
SPRITE will collect unprecedented data from modern-day stars and supernovas to help scientists better understand a time in the history of the cosmos called the “Epoch of Reionization”—a period in which the universe’s first stars lived fast and hard, burning out and going supernova in a span of just a few million years.
Before the Epoch of Reionization, the universe wasn’t anything like it is today. The cosmos’ first stars and galaxies were just beginning to form, but their light couldn’t spread far into space like it does today—the vast distances between galaxies were filled with neutral gas that effectively fogged up the universe.
Then, a little more than 13 billion years ago, that began to change: Radiation from these young stars started leaking out of their galaxies and ionizing the surrounding gas—kicking electrons off of the hydrogen atoms and changing the nature of the matter that permeates the universe.
There’s just one problem with the theory: Scientists still aren’t sure how this light was able to escape from the universe’s first galaxies. One theory suggests that ancient supernovas blew the clouds of dense gas surrounding those early stars out of the way, a bit like giant leaf blowers in space.
SPRITE won’t seek to observe those ancient eruptions directly. Instead, it will conduct two surveys closer to home. One will measure how nearby galaxies emit ionizing radiation. The second will look at the remains of exploded stars in the Magellanic Clouds, two dwarf galaxies that circle our own Milky Way.
To measure the ultraviolet radiation from galaxies and stars, the SPRITE team is experimenting with a range of new technologies that haven’t flown into space before to measure the ultraviolet light from these stars. SPRITE is flight testing two LUVOIR-LUMOS enabling technologies: protected eLiF mirror coatings and low-background borosilicate microchannel plate detectors. These advanced technologies allow SPRITE to reach projected far-ultraviolet sensitivities on par with previous larger NASA missions while maintaining imaging spectroscopic capability.
The LASP cubesat mission operations and data systems teams provide the commanding, downlink, data capture and data reduction for SPRITE operations.
The SPRITE team will publicly provide data when available.