UK Space Agency Joins Forces With NASA To Explore The Solar System
The Sun and our neighboring planet Mars are two destinations that the UK and US will be exploring together in the coming years, following recent agreements for collaboration on three big space projects.
During a visit this week to space facilities and companies in the UK, Mason Peck, Chief Technologist at NASA, said, “Cooperation and collaboration are critical to meet increasingly global challenges, and our partnership with the United Kingdom in space exploration and technology development is essential to meeting common goals. I´m delighted I have the opportunity to see first hand the good work UK space companies are doing, and continue building this strong partnership.”
Dr. David Parker, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, added, “The UK has a long history of playing crucial roles in big US missions and a strong relationship with our colleagues at NASA. Space is big business for both the UK and global economies and an increasingly integral part of our lives. If we want to continue this success and push the boundaries of exploration, we must continue to foster the industry´s growth through strategic investment and close partnership with other space-faring nations.”
Sunjammer — the first collaborative mission scheduled for launch — will see two UK instruments fly on the largest solar sail ever constructed. Due for launch in 2014, this NASA mission will fly towards the Sun demonstrating solar sail technology and a range of other technologies. UK scientists at Imperial College London and MSSL are developing the mission´s magnetometer (MAGIC) and wind analyzer (SWAN) — instruments that will study space weather and prove new technology in that field.
Whilst in space , the UK instruments onboard Sunjammer will start monitoring different aspects of space weather, paving the way to a better understanding of its processes and their influence on spaceborne and ground-based systems and assessing its potential to harm property or human health.
Due for launch in 2016, NASA´s Insight mission will also feature an instrument funded by the UK Space Agency, but this one will be going to the Red Planet.
Designed to investigate the interior structure and processes of Mars, the SEIS-SP seismometer will listen for Marsquakes and use that information to map the boundaries between the rock layers inside the planet. The data will help determine if the planet has a liquid or solid core and provide some clues as to why its surface is not divided up into tectonic plates as on Earth. Detailed knowledge of the interior of Mars in comparison to Earth will help scientist understand better how terrestrial planets form and evolve.
The SEIS-SP will be provided by space scientists at Imperial College London and the University of Oxford.
A European Mission with strong UK involvement, Solar Orbiter will travel closer to the Sun than any previous mission, studying the star´s Polar regions for the first time. It will also be synchronous with the Sun´s rotation, providing long duration observations for the first time and enabling the mission to observe the build up of events such as solar storms.
The UK Space Agency recently brokered an agreement for NASA to provide an instrument for the UK-led Solar Wind Analyzer (SWA) suite of instruments.
The SWA suite, led by MSSL, will measure the different elements of the solar wind and characterize their behavior under different solar conditions. The Mission is due for launch in 2017.
These latest collaborative missions follow in the footsteps of many other big NASA and international missions that have seen the UK play a crucial role. Amongst the most successful are the Cassini Huygens mission to explore Saturn and its moons, the STEREO Sun mission and the Swift gamma ray burst mission.
Also under construction and due for launch in 2018 is the James Webb Space Telescope — a partnership between NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency that has a great deal of UK involvement in the form of the MIRI camera and spectrometer.
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