SpaceX Wins NASA TRACERS Mission Contract to Launch SmallSats to Study Earth's Magnetosphere

SpaceX Wins NASA TRACERS Mission Contract to Launch SmallSats to Study Earth's Magnetosphere
SpaceX won a NASA contract to launch the Tandem Reconnection and Cusp Electrodynamics Reconnaissance Satellites (TRACERS) mission. TRACERS is a vital component of NASA's heliophysics endeavors and aims to unravel longstanding questions concerning the Sun-Earth system.


Although NASA did not specify the exact launch date or the launch configuration for TRACERS, company representatives confirmed that TRACERS will be the primary payload of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rideshare mission scheduled for no earlier than April 2025 (date subject to change), targeting sun-synchronous orbit. The value NASA paid SpaceX for launch services currently remains undisclosed, however, the entire TRACERS project has a budget of up to $115 million. 


The TRACERS mission comprises a pair of small satellites (SmallSats) designed to investigate space weather and the Sun's impact on Earth's magnetosphere. Leading the TRACERS mission is the University of Iowa, with collaborative efforts from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio and Millennium Space Systems in El Segundo, California. This significant launch service decision was announced by NASA's Launch Services Program, headquartered at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It is part of NASA's VADR (Venture-Class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare) launch services contract.


Once in sun-synchronous orbit, the TRACERS spacecraft, constructed by Millennium Space Systems, will orbit Earth in the polar cusp region which is a region of the magnetosphere where the magnetic field lines are open to space. This allows solar wind particles to enter the magnetosphere and interact with Earth's atmosphere. The cusp is a dynamic region where space weather effects are often observed.The TRACERS satellites will carry a suite of instruments to measure the electric and magnetic fields, plasma particles, and waves in the cusp region. This data will be used to study the processes of magnetic reconnection and cusp electrodynamics, which are two key drivers of space weather. By studying the solar wind-magnetosphere interaction in the cusp region, TRACERS will provide new insights into how Earth's magnetosphere works and how it responds to changes in the solar wind. This knowledge will help us to better understand and predict space weather events, which can have a significant impact on our technology and infrastructure.
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Featured Image Source: University of Iowa 


About the Author

Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo

Evelyn Janeidy Arevalo

Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.

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