NASA Marshall Space Flight Center has contracted Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) to develop a smallsat platform for the StarBurst astrophysics mission — part of the newly formed NASA Pioneers Program, StarBurst seeks to detect high-energy gamma rays that are emitted from events such as the mergers of neutron stars.
NASA announced the Pioneers Program in 2020 to develop small-scale astrophysics missions using smallsats, balloons, and modest International Space Station payloads to explore cosmic phenomena. In the first round, NASA selected four proposals to study galaxy evolution, exoplanets, high-energy neutrinos, and neutron star merger.
Managed by the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, StarBurst will focus on neutron star research, using a 250 kg smallsat built by SFL to observe the gamma rays emitted from these merger events, which form most of the heavy metals, such as gold and platinum, in the universe. It is believed StarBurst could observe up to 10 neutron star mergers every year.
SFL will develop the StarBurst mission on its space-proven 1x1x1-meter scalable DAUNTLESS bus. Under Phase A of the program, SFL will complete the platform concept design, and upon approval by NASA, will then proceed with detailed design, integration, and testing of the spacecraft. SFL will also support the launch, commissioning, and operation of StarBurst, notionally scheduled for 2025.
“SFL is pleased that NASA has chosen us to participate in the Pioneers Program that was created specifically to perform astrophysics science with smaller, more cost-effective hardware, including small spacecraft developed the microspace way,” said SFL Director Dr. Robert E. Zee.