NASA Prepares IRIS Satellite For Solar Observing Mission
June 5, 2013

NASA Prepares IRIS Satellite For Solar Observing Mission

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

Scheduled to launch June 26, NASA´s newest scientific satellite will provide the most detailed look ever at the sun´s lower atmosphere, called the interface region.

The interface region is located between the sun´s visible surface and upper atmosphere. This is where most of the sun´s ultraviolet emissions, which impact the near-Earth space environment and Earth´s climate, are generated. NASA´s new Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) mission will be tasked to observe how solar material moves, gathers energy, and heats up as it moves through the interface region, which is largely unexplored.

Designed by Lockheed Martin´s Advanced Technology Center, the IRIS spacecraft will launch aboard an Orbital Sciences Corporation's Pegasus XL rocket deployed from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

"IRIS data will fill a crucial gap in our understanding of the solar interface region upon joining our fleet of heliophysics spacecraft," said Jeffrey Newmark, NASA's IRIS program scientist in Washington. "For the first time we will have the necessary observations for understanding how energy is delivered to the million-degree outer solar corona and how the base of the solar wind is driven."

The telescope aboard IRIS is ultraviolet, feeding a multi-channel imaging spectrograph. IRIS is the first mission designed to use an ultraviolet telescope to obtain spectra and high-resolution images every few seconds. The telescope will also provide observations of areas as small as 150 miles across the Sun.

"Previous observations suggest there are structures in this region of the solar atmosphere 100 to 150 miles wide, but 100,000 miles long," said Alan Title, IRIS principal investigator at Lockheed Martin. "Imagine giant jets like huge fountains that have a footprint the size of Los Angeles and are long enough and fast enough to circle Earth in 20 seconds. IRIS will provide our first high-resolution views of these structures along with information about their velocity, temperature and density."

IRIS will travel in a polar, sun-synchronous orbit around Earth after the launch, crossing almost directly over the poles in such a way that it will cross the equator at the same local time each day. IRIS will orbit at an altitude ranging from 390 miles to 420 miles, allowing for almost continuous solar observations on its two year mission.

Mission operations and ground data systems will be provided by NASA´s Ames Research Center, while the Norwegian Space Center in Oslo, Norway, will provide science data downlinks. Launch management will be handled by NASA´s Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center.