NASA has announced a new mission that will attempt to map the sky in order to survey millions of galaxies. The agency hopes data collected by the new spacecraft will help researchers understand the origins of the universe and how common the basic ingredients of life are beyond our own solar system.
The Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) will survey the sky utalising both optical and near-infrared light. It is hoped that the spacecraft will discover data from more than 300 million galaxies in addition to 100 million stars in our own Milky Way.
“I’m really excited about this new mission,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Not only does it expand the United States’ powerful fleet of space-based missions dedicated to uncovering the mysteries of the universe, it is a critical part of a balanced science program that includes missions of various sizes.”
Once data from SPHEREx has been collected, areas of interests will be marked for further investigation by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope and Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope. The mission will also enable researchers to create a map of the entire sky in 96 different colours, a significant improvement on any all-sky maps before it.
The SPHEREx mission is part of NASA’s Astrophysics Explorers Program, the agency’s oldest continuous program. It has received $242 million in funding (not including launch costs) and its primary mission is expected to last two years.
Proposals for the next Astrophysics Explorers mission were requested in September 2016. The SPHEREx mission and one other were selected from nine proposals in August 2017. Following an exhaustive review, SPHEREx was officially selected. The project’s principal investigator is James Bock of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California. Bock along with others at Caltech will work closely with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to develop the mission payload.
The SPHEREx mission is scheduled to launch no later than 2023.