Space “carpooling”: NASA smallsats to hitch a ride with SPHEREx

by | Aug 10, 2022 | Launches, NASA, SpaceX

NASA has announced that its Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere (PUNCH) mission will join the SPHEREx satellite on a SpaceX Falcon 9 flight, scheduled to launch in April 2025.

NASA’s PUNCH missions consists of four smallsats to measure the outer part of the Solar corona which emits the solar wind. The launch of PUNCH was originally scheduled for August 2022 and slated to cost US$165m for all four spacecraft and the launch, according to the Seradata SpaceTrak database.

“Rideshares are a great way to save money by taking better advantage of each rocket’s capability,” said Craig DeForest, PUNCH principal investigator at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, who described the rideshare as a “carpool to orbit”.

NASA contracted SpaceX in February 2021 for the launch of its Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Re-ionization, and Ices Explorer. SPHEREx, which it is more commonly known as, is an astrophysics mission with a price tag of US$98.8 million. The contract, according to NASA, was updated in July 2022 to include PUNCH on the launch, but the space agency did not divulge the new contract value.

 

The mission, consisting of four 40kg PUNCH spacecraft, was first proposed in October 2016. Courtesy: Southwest Research Institute.

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