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NASA to build 'small explorer' satellites.

NASA to build 'Small Explorer' satellites

Less than a year ago, NASA announced it would start working on a series of small, relatively inexpensive scientific satellites that it could develop in a far shorter time than the decade or more sometimes needed for elaborate projects such as interplanetary missions. This week, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., hosted a group of scientists just selected to work with the first four satellites in the series.

Each satellite should cost only about $30 million and weigh barely 400 pounds so that it can be launched on an inexpensive Scout rocket. Time is also a key factor: NASA started right out telling potentially interested scientists that there would be "less than three years elapsing from the start of the detailed design and hardware development phases until launch of the mission."

A primary reason for the rapid development: "So it will be possible to address a topic while it's hot," says David A. Gilman of NASA in Washington, D.C. Another factor, says Small Explorer program manager Nickolus O. Rasch, is to "allow critical training opportunities for the next generation of scientists and engineers."

First on the list is the Solar, Anomalous and Magnetospheric Particle Explorer, scheduled for orbit in mid-1992 to study "anomalous" cosmic rays and timed to work during the current solar-cycle maximum. Next comes a Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite in mid-1993, aimed at helping decipher how molecular clouds collapse to form stars and planetary systems. This "survey" mission will take the first overall look at the sky in submillimeter wavelengths. "We could never have done this before," says Gilman, "because there weren't enough opportunities to fly it."

The Fast Auroral Snapshot Explorer should fly late in 1993, followed by the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS), addressing concerns about Earth's ozone layer. NASA wants TOMS in orbit so badly that it may fly the satellite either as a Small Explorer or in another series of satellites called Earth Probes. The agency is even negotiating about a possible ride for TOMS on a Soviet weather satellite.
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Title Annotation:Solar, Anomalous and Magnetospheric Particle Explorer, Submillimeter Wave Astronomy satellite, Fast Auroral Snapshot Explorer, Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer
Author:Eberhart, J.
Publication:Science News
Date:Apr 15, 1989
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