SPHEREx, the Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization, and Ices Explorer, has a bright future. NASA’s upcoming space telescope has a mission of mapping the entire sky. From the observation, it will be possible to understand the history of star galaxies. Equally important, scientists will study young planetary systems to identify their components. As they learn all that, the rate at which the universe has expanded ever since the big bang will be clear.
The mission is impressive, and the fact that there is hope for its launch one day is even more exciting. After all, it is now in Phase C. That means the preliminary design plans have earned approval. Consequently, the team can now work on the final design putting all the necessary details. It also gives the team developing software and hardware a go-ahead.
It means that it is possible for the plan to go as per the schedule. The earliest it can fly is June 2024, and the latest is April 2025. The duration of this mission is two years. That will be enough time for it to map the sky not once, twice, thrice, but four times. At the end of the mission, NASA will have a database of galaxies, stars, and nebulas, among other celestial objects.
For obvious reasons, its instruments can detect light that has wavelengths longer than light that the human eye can see. If you know the size of a subcompact car, you have an idea of the size of SPHEREx. A prism can break sunlight into its various colors. That’s the same thing the space telescope does to near-infrared light and breaks it to individual wavelengths and colors using the spectroscopy technique.
It is no secret that various chemical elements radiate and absorb different light wavelengths differently. Spectroscopy uses that concept to identify the multiple components of other objects. The sky map will be three-dimensional since SPHEREx can also tell the approximate distance between a specific item and the Earth. According to its project manager Allen Farrington, the shift is similar to the transition from black & white to color images.
For approval, the design team had a lot of explaining to do. They had to convince NASA officials of the possibility of turning what they had proposed into reality. The presentation method was a first, not in-person, that is, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It occurred around October 2020 and took several days. Now that it is okay to go ahead and build the real thing, the team has a lot in their hands. It is important to note that they have 29 months to work on it, which is reasonable. After the construction, there will be integration, testing, and launching eventually.