Hermes will be NASA’s mini-weather station for tracking solar activity

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To uncover the secrets behind space weather, the mission will monitor electromagnetic fields, subatomic particles, and solar flares.

To be built sometime in the next decade by NASA, the Gateway—a lunar outpost for which astronauts will live and work—will help conduct in depth science operations vital to humanity’s continued exploration of deep space

One such mission, named Hermes, has recently passed a crucial mission review, and NASA researchers will now be transitioning into finalizing the mission’s design.

“Hermes is going to be a key part of the Artemis mission, and NASA’s plans to establish a permanent lunar base,” said Jamie Favors, Hermes program executive at NASA, in a press release on Jan. 30.

Built by NASA‘s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), Hermes is one of two miniature weather stations that will monitor space conditions with a focus on helio­physics, the study of solar activity. The mission will study dynamic conditions created by the Sun, such as coronal masses ejected from the Sun that can cause harm both for the instruments and for human activities.

The station will be composed of four specialized instruments that are placed together on one platform (or “stations”). One of them, which is called Nemisis, measures the magnetic fields surrounding Gateway, and another one, called the Noise Eliminating Magneto­meter Instrument in a Small Integrated Sys­tem, will measure the magnetic field around Gateway.

Understanding space weather phenomena through this space mission will help prepare for future crewed expediti­ons. “In terms of human exploration,” says William Paterson, the project scientist for the Hermes Mission, “space weather is really about the radia­tion environment.”

Scientists have been measuring the effects of space weather on small scientific spacecraft for years, but Hermes will be the first monitoring device on a crewed mission designed to collect data outside of Earth’s protective magnetic field. This magnetic field, extending about 60,000 miles (about 100,000 kilometers) into space, protects astronauts aboard the International Space Station from radiation spewed out during solar flares and other galactic cosmics rays.

But as the moon revolves around the earth, it passes through the planet’s magnetic tail, which is part of the field that’s swept back by solar radiation To reach Mars, Hermes will need to fly through the VanAllen Belts — big swaths of energetic charged particles trapped within the Earth’s magnetosphere. If astronauts flew in low earth orbit (LEO), they wouldn’t be affected by the radiation belt, but if they flew at a higher altitude, they could be exposed to dangerous levels of radiation for a long period of time.

Gateway will spend a third of its time inside this shield, giving researchers a unique opportunity to study and directly observe radiation from the Sun. After launch, it takes about a year for Hermes to get into the right place to begin its mission, which, according to the plan, will happen just after the peak of the Sun’s current solar cycles.

“Based on the activity coming from the Sun, it’s going to be a really good time for us to go there and start doing our missions.”

With its own payload, Gateway will also be carrying Hermes’ counterpart, ERS-A, short for European Radiation Sensor Array. Both Hermes and ERSPAN were named after two of Artemis’s half siblings in Greek mythology.

Hermes’ measurements will help ensure astronauts’ safety, but its data is primarily scientific in nature. On the one hand, the main focus for the European Space Agency‘s ERSO will be how solar wind radiation affects space travelers and their equipment.

The daily data these satellites send back will help create an even clearer picture of how space storms operate throughout the entirety of our solar systems. That information is especially useful when humans attempt to create habitable environments on, or close to, other planets.

“We see this as kind a pathfinder to help us establish this capability that we believe will be needed in the future for exploration.”

Hermes still has a lot of ground to cover before its scheduled launch in 2024. It’s going to take some time to get everything ready. But Paterson is really looking forward to the data he’ll collect.

Because most research into Heliophysics is usually conducted in isolation, Paterson wants to see this project expand humanity‘s knowledge of how our Sun‘s unique dynamics affect the entire Solar System.

“We think we’ll be able to do really good science from the Gateway, but there’s going to a learning curve to figure things out. We’re pretty confident though.”

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