NASA has selected Rocket Lab to launch a pair of CubeSats in 2024 as part of the Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment (PREFIRE) mission which aims to closely monitor the energy entering and exiting Earth's polar regions, shedding new light on an area of scientific inquiry that has been shrouded in mystery.
NASA has selected Rocket Lab to launch a pair of CubeSats in 2024 as part of the Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment (PREFIRE) mission; which aims to closely monitor the energy entering and exiting Earth's polar regions, shedding new light on an area of scientific inquiry that has been shrouded in mystery.
The decision to select Rocket Lab was made through NASA's Venture-class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare (VADR) contract, a highly competitive program where only companies on the VADR contract are eligible to bid on taxpayer-funded mission launches. While the exact financial details of the task order were not disclosed, NASA assured that the competitive process ensures cost-effectiveness while maintaining the integrity of the selection.
The announcement lacked certain specifics that are usually included in such announcements, such as the launch vehicle, number of launches, and exact launch dates for the PREFIRE satellites. However, Rocket Lab's separate statement clarified that the two 6U CubeSats will be launched individually on the company's Electron rockets from Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand, with the launch window set for May 2024.
The Polar Radiant Energy in the Far-InfraRed Experiment is set to address a significant gap in our understanding of Earth's energy balance, particularly in the polar regions where data is limited.
The mission will involve the deployment of two CubeSats, each equipped with a far-infrared spectrometer capable of measuring infrared fluxes in the 5 to 54 micron range. These measurements will enable scientists to gather crucial information about far infrared (FIR) emissions, which constitute the majority of energy emitted from the polar regions.
The mission is set to filll a major gap in our knowledge of the Arctic energy budget and the role of FIR radiation in Arctic warming, sea ice loss, ice sheet melt, and sea level rise. The gathered data is expected to contribute significantly to our understanding of climate change and its effects on polar regions, playing a crucial role in informing future policy decisions and scientific research.
The PREFIRE mission was selected by NASA in 2018 as part of its Earth Venture initiative, with an estimated budget of $33 million. Project management and instrument development for the mission are being overseen by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, while Tristan L’Ecuyer of the University of Wisconsin is serving as the principal investigator.
Rocket Lab's involvement in this landmark mission marks another significant step forward in the commercial space industry's contributions to scientific exploration and understanding, highlighting the increasing collaboration between governmental and private entities in pushing the boundaries of space research.