NASA funds initial study phase for three astrophysics experiments

11 OCTOBER 00 | Two new Space Sciences Laboratory experiments to study galactic cosmic rays, which play a crucial role in the dynamics of interstellar gas clouds - the breeding grounds for newborn stars - have been awarded NASA funding for concept development.

A pair of instruments - ECCO, the Extremely Heavy Cosmic-ray Composition Observer, and ENTICE, the Energetic Trans-Iron Composition Experiment - would fly on board a future spacecraft called the Heavy Nuclei Explorer, designed to act like a space laboratory for determining the properties of high-energy atomic particles across the galaxy. The proposed space science mission has received $500,000 to carry out a six-month concept study in Oct. 2001.

Berkeley physicist Andrew Westphal, who is the principal investigator of ECCO and a member of the science team on ENTICE, said the mission would help scientists identify the origin of these cosmic rays, which are propelled into space by the shock waves from supernova explosions and accelerate to nearly the speed of light. "These highly charged particles fill interstellar space, and many people think that they exert great influence over the evolution of interstellar clouds, which are the incubators of new stars in the galaxy," he noted.

A third instrument, SPEAR, the Spectroscopy of Plasma Evolution from Astrophysical Radiation sensor, to be led by Berkeley astronomer and principal investigator Jerry Edelstein, also received a NASA "mission of opportunity" contract for concept study.

The $250,000 contract, given to missions that would be part of an international project within NASA's Explorer program, was awarded because of its scientific return. SPEAR, an instrument that would trace the energy flow in the gas between stars, would be the primary payload on the Korean KAISTSAT-4 mission, tentatively planned for launch in 2002.


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