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Heliophysics Research

A hierarchy of supporting research programs provides two services to meet SMD’s Heliophysics science goals. First the program provides a solid scientific basis for the conceptualization of future missions. Second, the supported investigations provide the method by which integration of the science of the many flight missions is ultimately realized. This research program is an end-to-end one that starts with the formulation of theories of the phenomena proposed for future mission study and the design of experimental studies to test those theories. The program supports the development of observational techniques and the instrument technologies needed to implement them. Proof of concept experiments are conducted in the laboratory or from an appropriate set of balloon-, sounding rocket- and/or space-based platforms. A broad range of investigations proposed by the Heliophysics science community is supported to increase scientific knowledge across the discipline. Another set of investigations is supported to increase the scientific output of missions currently in flight. The results are incorporated into computational models used to more fully characterize the present state and future evolution of the Heliophysics system. Other national and international agencies use the generated knowledge in their space weather forecasting and in policy and resource management.

Working with universities, other government facilities, and industrial labs, individual and group theory, modeling, and research and analysis efforts are conducted through the following programs:

  • The Heliophysics Theory Program is the foundation and supports larger PI-proposed team efforts that require a critical mass of expertise in order to make significant progress in understanding complex physical processes with broad importance, such as magnetic reconnection or particle acceleration; and,
  • The Low-Cost Access to Space (LCAS) Program, which includes balloon and sounding rocket investigations, supports science investigations that may be completed through suborbital flight, as well as proof-testing new technologies that may ultimately find application in free-flying Heliophysics space missions.
  • The Low-Cost Access to Space (LCAS) Program, which includes balloon and sounding rocket investigations, supports science investigations that may be completed through suborbital flight, as well as proof-testing new technologies that may ultimately find application in free-flying Heliophysics space missions.
  • The Heliophysics System Observatory (HSO): Each Heliophysics flight mission has a specific, often tightly focused scientific goal. In addition, the missions taken together form an extended sensor web of spacecraft that are utilized to understand the dynamics of the solar system as an integrated whole. This distributed observatory has flexibility and capabilities that evolve with each new mission launched. In addition to its science value, the system observatory forms the backbone of NASA’s ability to enable an operational capability for predicting space weather, a priority of the National Space Policy.
  • The Guest Investigator Program is a synergistic component of the Heliophysics System Observatory.* This program enables the broadest community of researchers in universities and institutions across the country to use Observatory data in innovative scientific research.

* "Heliophysics System Observatory" is the concept of the entire fleet of heliospheric, geospace and planetary spacecraft as a distributed observatory for learning about larger-scale and coupled processes at work in our complex space environment.

The Guest Investigator Program enables access to the following missions:

*Sort missions by clicking the column headers.

DivisionNameLaunch DatePhase
Heliophysics ACE
Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) observes particles of solar, interplanetary, interstellar, and galactic origins, spanning the energy range from solar wind ions to galactic cosmic ray nuclei. This mission is part of SMD's Explorers Program. This mission is part of SMD's ...
19970825 August 25, 1997 3Operating
Heliophysics AIM
Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) is a mission to determine the causes of the highest altitude clouds in the Earth's atmosphere. The number of clouds in the middle atmosphere (mesosphere) over the Earth's poles has been increasing over ...
20070425 April 25, 2007 3Operating
Heliophysics BARREL
The Balloon Array for Radiation-belt Relativistic Electron Losses mission is a balloon-based Mission of Opportunity to augment the measurements of NASA's RBSP spacecraft. This mission is part of SMD's LWS program.
2Development
Heliophysics CINDI/CNOFS
The Coupled Ion-Neutral Dynamics Investigations (CINDI) is a mission to understand the dynamics of the Earth's ionosphere. CINDI will provide two instruments for the Communication/Navigation Outage Forecast System (C/NOFS) satellite, a project of the United States Air Force. This mission ...
20080416 April 16, 2008 3Operating
Heliophysics Cluster-II
Cluster is a European Space Agency program with major NASA involvement. The 4 Cluster spacecraft are providing a detailed three-dimensional map of the magnetosphere, with surprising results. This mission is part of SMD's Heliophysics Research program.
20000716 July 16, 2000 15Extended
Heliophysics Equator-S
Equator-S was a German Space Agency project, with contributions from ESA and NASA, related to the International Solar-Terrestrial Physics program. The mission provided high-resolution plasma, magnetic, and electric field measurements in several regions not adequately covered by any of the ...
19971202 December 02, 1997 4Past
Heliophysics FAST
Fast Auroral Snapshot Explorer (FAST) studies the detailed plasma physics of the Earth's auroral regions. Ground support campaigns coordinate satellite measurements with ground observations of the Aurora Borealis, commonly referred to as the Northern Lights. The science instruments on board ...
19960821 August 21, 1996 4Past
Heliophysics Geotail
The GEOTAIL mission is a collaborative project undertaken by the Japanese Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS) and NASA. Its primary objective is to study the tail of the Earth's magnetosphere. The information gathered is allowing scientists to model ...
19920724 July 24, 1992 3Operating
Heliophysics Hinode (Solar-B)
Hinode (formerly known as Solar-B) is a Japanese ISAS mission proposed as a follow-on to the highly successful Japan/US/UK Yohkoh (Solar-A) collaboration. The mission consists of a coordinated set of optical, EUV and X-ray instruments that are studying the interaction ...
20060923 September 23, 2006 3Operating
Heliophysics IBEX
IBEX will be the first mission designed to detect the edge of the Solar System. As the solar wind from the sun flows out beyond Pluto, it collides with the material between the stars, forming a shock front. This mission ...
20081019 October 19, 2008 3Operating
Heliophysics IMAGE
IMAGE studied the global response of the magnetosphere to changes in the solar wind. Major changes occur to the configuration of the magnetosphere as a result of changes in and on the Sun, which in turn change the solar wind.
20000325 March 25, 2000 4Past
Heliophysics IMP-8
IMP 8 has deepened understanding of the space environment near Earth in many ways. Observations from IMP 8 provided insight into plasma physics, the Earth's magnetic field, the structure of the solar wind and the nature of cosmic rays.
19731026 October 26, 1973 4Past
Heliophysics IRIS
The primary goal of the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) explorer is to understand how the solar atmosphere is energized. The IRIS investigation combines advanced numerical modeling with a high resolution UV imaging spectrograph.
20130401 April 2013 2Development
Heliophysics ISEE
The ISEE (International Sun-Earth Explorer) program was an international cooperative program between NASA and ESA to study the interaction of the solar wind with the Earth's magnetosphere.
19780812 August 12, 1978 4Past
Heliophysics MMS
The Magnetospheric Multiscale mission will determine the small-scale basic plasma processes which transport, accelerate and energize plasmas in thin boundary and current layers – and which control the structure and dynamics of the Earth's magnetosphere. MMS will for the first ...
20141027 October 27, 2014 2Development
Heliophysics Polar
Polar is the second of two NASA spacecraft in the Global Geospace Science (GGS) initiative and part of the ISTP Project. GGS is designed to improve greatly the understanding of the flow of energy, mass and momentum in the solar-terrestrial ...
19960224 February 24, 1996 4Past
Heliophysics RHESSI
Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscope Imager (RHESSI) studies solar flares in X-rays and gamma-rays. It explores the basic physics of particle acceleration and explosive energy release in these energetic events in the Sun's atmosphere. This is accomplished by imaging ...
20020205 February 05, 2002 3Operating
Heliophysics SAMPEX
The Solar Anomalous and Magnetospheric Particle Explorer was investigating the composition of local interstellar matter and solar material and the transport of magnetospheric charged particles into the Earth's atmosphere.
19920703 July 03, 1992 4Past
Heliophysics SNOE
SNOE ("snowy") was a small satellite investigating the effects of energy from the Sun and from the magnetosphere on the density of nitric oxide in the Earth's upper atmosphere.
19980226 February 26, 1998 4Past
Heliophysics SOHO
Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) is a solar observatory studying the structure, chemical composition, and dynamics of the solar interior. SOHO a joint venture of the European Space Agency and NASA. This mission is part of SMD's Heliophysics Research program.
19951202 December 02, 1995 3Operating
Heliophysics Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO)
The Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) is the first mission and crown jewel in a fleet of NASA missions to study our sun. The mission is the cornerstone of a NASA science program called Living With a Star (LWS). The goal ...
20100211 February 11, 2010 3Operating
Heliophysics Solar Orbiter
Solar Orbiter is a European Space Agency (ESA) mission to study the Sun from a distance closer than any spacecraft previously has, and will provide images and measurements in unprecedented resolution and detail. This mission is part of SMD's LWS ...
1Under Study
Heliophysics Solar Probe Plus
Solar Probe Plus will be a historic mission, flying into one of the last unexplored regions of the solar system, the Sun’s atmosphere or corona, for the first time. This mission is part of SMD's LWS Program.
1Under Study
Heliophysics Space Environment Testbeds
The Space Environment Testbeds (SET) Project performs flight and ground investigations to understand how the Sun/Earth interactions affect humanity.
20140101 January 2014 2Development
Heliophysics Spartan 201
Spartan was a small, Shuttle-launched and retrieved satellite. Spartan 201, whose mission was to study the Sun, has a science payload consisting of two telescopes: the Ultraviolet Coronal Spectrometer (UVCS) and the White Light Coronagraph (WLC). Spartan 201 was launched ...
19940913 September 13, 1994 4Past
Heliophysics ST5
Space Technology 5 (ST5) flight tested its miniaturized satellites and innovative technologies in the harsh environment of Earth's magnetosphere.
20060322 March 22, 2006 4Past
Heliophysics STEREO
The goal of STEREO is to understand the origin the Sun's coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and their consequences for Earth. The mission consists of two spacecraft, one leading and the other lagging Earth in its orbit. The spacecraft carries instrumentation ...
20061025 October 25, 2006 3Operating
Heliophysics THEMIS
Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms (THEMIS) is a study of the onset of magnetic storms within the tail of the Earth's magnetosphere. THEMIS will fly five microsatellite probes through different regions of the magnetosphere and observe ...
20070217 February 17, 2007 3Operating
Heliophysics TIMED
Thermosphere, Ionosphere, Mesosphere Energetics and Dynamics (TIMED) explores the energy transfer into and out of the Mesosphere and Lower Thermosphere/Ionosphere (MLTI) region of the Earth's atmosphere. This mission is part of SMD's Solar Terrestrial Probes Program.
20011207 December 07, 2001 3Operating
Heliophysics TRACE
Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE) observed the effects of the emergence of magnetic flux from deep inside the Sun to the outer corona with high spatial and temporal resolution. This mission was part of SMD's Heliophysics Explorers program. This ...
19980401 April 01, 1998 4Past
Heliophysics TWINS A & B
TWINS will provide stereo imaging of the Earth's magnetosphere, the region surrounding the planet controlled by its magnetic field and containing the Van Allen radiation belts and other energetic charged particles. This mission is part of SMD's Explorers Program. This ...
20080313 March 13, 2008 3Operating
Heliophysics Ulysses
The Ulysses Mission was the first spacecraft to explore interplanetary space at high solar latitudes, orbiting the Sun nearly perpendicular to the plane in which the planets orbit. This mission was part of SMD's Heliophysics Research program.
19901006 October 06, 1990 4Past
Heliophysics Voyager
The twin Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft continue exploring where nothing from Earth has flown before. In the 25th year after their 1977 launches, they each are much farther away from Earth and the Sun than Pluto is and approaching ...
19770905 September 05, 1977 3Operating
Heliophysics Wind
Wind studies the solar wind and its impact on the near-Earth environment. This mission is part of SMD's Heliophysics Research program.
19941101 November 01, 1994 3Operating
Heliophysics Yohkoh
Yohkoh, an observatory for studying X-rays and gamma-rays from the Sun, is a project of the Institute for Space and Astronautical Sciences, Japan.
19910830 August 30, 1991 4Past