NASA selects SpaceX to launch a pair of smallsats to study space weather as part of a rideshare mission in 2025.
NASA has tasked SpaceX with launching the Tandem Reconnection and Cusp Electrodynamics Reconnaissance Satellites (TRACERS), a pair of smallsats that will study space weather and the magnetosphere from low Earth orbit. A launch date has not yet been announced. NASA spokesperson Leejay Lockhart said that TRACERS will be the primary payload of a rideshare mission going to sun-synchronous orbit no earlier than April 2025.
Millennium Space Systems are building the two spacecraft. Once placed into sun-synchronous orbit, they will perform repeated crossings of the polar cusp of the Earth’s magnetosphere, as field lines bend down to the north and south poles, studying the interactions known as magnetic reconnection between the solar wind and terrestrial magnetosphere.
NASA selected TRACERS in 2019 as a heliophysics Small Explorer, or SMEX, mission. At the time, it was planned to launch as a secondary payload with another SMEX mission, the Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere (PUNCH). However, in August 2022, NASA said that PUNCH would fly on the same Falcon 9 as an agency astrophysics mission, the Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization, and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) in 2025.
As with past awards made through the Venture Class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare (VADR) contract, NASA declined to state the value of the task order, saying that such information is competition sensitive information that could affect bids on future task orders. According to a government procurement database, NASA added $3.593 m to SpaceX’s VADR contract but did not explicitly link it to the TRACERS task order.