NASA has taken a big step towards launching new missions that would help us better understand how the sun interacts with the space environment around our planet. The agency has picked five proposals and given them $1.25 million each to conduct a nine-month mission concept study under its heliophysics program. After the study period, NASA will choose two to send to space in the coming years. The hope is to deploy a mission that will not only “improve [our] understanding about the universe,” but also “offer key information to help protect astronauts, satellites and communications signals — such as GPS — in space.”
Space weather has a huge impact on both communications signals and space exploration. Geomagnetic storms caused by solar matter, for instance, could lead to less accurate GPS. Solar particles could also be hazardous to spacefarers — in particular, they could damage the DNA within an astronaut’s cells and cause cancer.