NASA & ESA Mission Updates


Exploring the Solar System: Mission Updates

NASA selected PUNCH and TRACERS for development and flight through its Heliophysics Small Explorers Program. The missions will cost no more than $165 million and $115 million, respectively. (PUNCH’s budget includes launch costs; TRACERS’ budget does not include rideshare costs, which are significantly smaller.) The missions could launch as early as 2022.

Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere (PUNCH)

PUNCH will consist of a constellation of four microsatellites that through continuous 3D deep-field imaging, will observe the corona and heliosphere as elements of a single, connected system. The four microsatellites are planned to be launched in 2022, along with a secondary payload satellite named Tandem Reconnection and Cusp Electrodynamics Reconnaissance Satellites (TRACERS). While PUNCH explores the region where the solar wind originates, Tracers instead investigates the cusps where the Sun’s magnetic field interacts with Earth’s field.

ESA has selected a “fast-class” mission to accompany its exoplanet-hunting satellite, the Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL), to be launched in 2028. The three spacecraft that make up the so-called “Comet Interceptor” will ride with ARIEL to the L2 Lagrange point 1.5 million km (1 million miles) beyond Earth on the opposite side of the Sun.


The Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey (ARIEL), is a space telescope planned for launch in 2028 as the fourth medium-class mission of the European Space Agency's Cosmic Vision programme. The mission is aimed at observing at least 1,000 known exoplanets using the transit method, studying and characterising the planets' chemical composition and thermal structures.

The ARIEL telescope's assembly is an off-axis Cassegrain telescope followed by a third parabolic mirror to recollimate the beam. The telescope uses an oval 1.1 × 0.7 metre primary mirror; the system has a diffraction limit of about 3 µm, and a focal ratio (f) of 13.4. The system will acquire images in the visible and near-infrared spectrum. Its infrared spectroscope will operate between 1.95 µm and 7.8 µm, which requires to be passively cooled to a temperature of −218 °C.