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Four concepts chosen for NASA’s Pioneers program

NASA has selected four astrophysics mission concepts that will be in the running to join its Pioneers program. These concepts will undergo a full concept study by NASA, and if everything checks out, they will formally become part of the program.

NASA’s Pioneers program is a newer one, started in 2020, that has the goal of performing compelling astrophysics studies at a much lower cost than usual. The concepts for these missions are submitted by various young innovators from many different backgrounds. If someone’s concept is approved, they then lead the study, helping them gain valuable experience. The catch is that the missions have a small $20 million cap.

The first four concepts that have been selected by NASA are as follows:

  • Starburst: A SmallSat study that will look for high-energy gamma rays from various cosmic events such as the merging of neutron stars.
  • Aspera: A SmallSat that has the purpose of studying the evolution of galaxies via ultraviolet light. Hot gas located in the intergalactic medium will be observed, watching how it flows in and out of different galaxies. 
  • Pandora: A SmallSat that will study 20 stars and their 39 exoplanets in both visible and infrared light. This will help astronomers differentiate signals from stars and exoplanets in the future. 
  • PUEO: A balloon that will launch from Antarctica and detect signals from ultra-high energy neutrinos. If successful, it would be the most sensitive survey of ultra-high energy neutrinos to date. 

As mentioned previously, these four concept missions are still required to go through a final review process before they are given the green light for launch. There is still a good chance that some aspects of the missions may prove to be too expensive to stay within the $20 million cap.


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Nick has a love for technology, cars, and space.