This month, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will be launching a satellite to study planet Earth’s interaction with the sun. Dubbed as CuPID, which stands for Cusp Plasma Imaging Detector, the satellite is no larger than a loaf of bread nor heavier than a watermelon, as per NASA. However, do not underestimate the mission after looking at the size of the satellite, as CuPID will orbit about 340 miles or 550 kilometers above Earth’s surface and image the boundary where the planet’s magnetic field interacts with that of the sun’s.
CuPID will be part of a rocket launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California this month. The rocket will also be taking off with it the Landsat 9, a joint mission of NASA and the US Geological Survey, and will also carry four CubeSats compact, box-shaped satellites used for space research projects. CuPID will be one of the CubeSats on this rocket. The mini satellite is the creation of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, Boston University, Drexel University, Johns Hopkins University, Merrimack College, Aerospace Corporation, and University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
In a statement to NASA, Brian Walsh, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering at Boston University and CuPID’s principal investigator, described the magnetosphere of the planet and said that most of the time, we are shielded pretty well from the sun’s activity, as energy and particles from the sun go around the Earth. However, changes in sun’s activity can make the interaction of its magnetic fields stronger with that of Earth’s magnetosphere. This, in turn, changes the shape and solar radiation which potentially puts satellites and astronauts in harm’s way.
To understand this phenomena in a better way, CuPID will study the boundary of Earth’s magnetic field and identify how and why energy sometimes gets in, said Walsh. CuPID will use a wide field-of-view soft X-ray camera and observe lower-energy, or “soft,” X-rays emitted when solar particles collide with Earth’s magnetosphere.
The satellite has been under development for 15 years, with scientists trying to create a small yet effective instrument to study the phenomena.