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Tethers Unlimited to support sun-watching mission

PUNCH mission
Four microsatellites will study how the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, imparts energy and mass to the solar wind during NASA’s PUNCH mission. (SwRI Illustration)

Bothell, Wash.-based Tethers Unlimited says it will provide key communications and propulsion capabilities to Southwest Research Institute in support of a NASA mission to study how the sun’s corona whips up the solar wind.

Tethers Unlimited’s SWIFT-XTS software-defined radio will be used for telemetry and control of the four suitcase-sized microsatellites that will conduct a mission known as PUNCH (Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere). And the company’s HYDROS-C water-electrolysis thruster will serve as the satellites’ propulsion system.

Last year NASA selected Southwest Research Institute, which has centers in Colorado and Texas, to lead the mission.

“Procuring these complete spacecraft subsystems ‘off-the-rack’ is critical to the PUNCH science,” Craig DeForest, a solar scientist at SwRI who serves as the mission’s principal investigator, said today in a news release. “The growing commercial ecosystem for space enables a constellation of four separate high-capability spacecraft, within the cost of a single traditionally-built satellite.”

The satellites will orbit Earth in formation to study how the corona, which serves as the sun’s outer atmosphere, infuses the solar wind with mass and energy. PUNCH’s satellites are due for launch as early as 2022.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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