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CURIE in cleanroom with students

Ariane 6 launch: NASA Curie radio investigator

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The newest rocket will be launched in Europe soon, with several space missions with a unique purpose, destination and team on Earth. Whether launching new satellites to look back and study the Earth, peer into deep space, or test important new technologies in orbit, Ariane 6’s maiden flight will demonstrate its versatility and flexibility, demonstrating a remarkable heavy-lift launch vehicle. Read on to learn all about CURIE and find out who else will be on board the maiden flight.

Space weather science

CURIE, NASA’s CubeSat Radio Interferometry Experiment, is a payload launched on the maiden flight of Ariane 6. CURIE will measure radio waves coming from the Sun and other radio sources in the sky. Such waves must be measured in space, because they are absorbed by the Earth’s ionosphere, a region extending from 30 to 600 miles above the Earth’s surface, consisting of ionized (charged) gases that arise when solar radiation interacts with the upper atmosphere.

Korean show in flight

CURIE consists of two spacecraft that are launched together as one and later separated into orbit. From a separate point of view, the CURIE A and B satellites will enable the measurement of the same radio waves from two locations at the same time. Using radio “interference analysis” technology, the origin of the detected radio waves can be reconstructed.

The main scientific goal of CURIE is to use radio interferometry to study radio burst emissions from solar flares, such as fires and coronal mass ejections in the heliosphere. These events are what drive space weather, the impact of which is felt on Earth and other planets as they occur, leading to increased aurora activity and geomagnetic effects.

November 29, 2020 Coronal mass ejection

CURIE will be able to determine the location and size of the source regions of the radio bursts and then track their movement outward from the Sun.

Such a radio interferometer observatory has been envisioned in space, in orbit around the Earth or the Moon, or on the far side of the Moon. CURIE will be the first of its kind to measure radio waves in the frequency range from 0.1 to 19 MHz from space. It will serve as an experimental platform and pioneer in the development of new space-based radio observation techniques that are important for our understanding of the heliospheric environment for space weather and the Sun’s influence on the planets of the Solar System.

In addition to important scientific goals, CURIE will also demonstrate that the concept of a dedicated space interferometer can be achieved using relatively inexpensive CubeSats.

The upper stage of Aryan’s class 6

Ariane 6 is scheduled to launch in June and July 2024. The rocket follows the hugely successful Ariane 5, Europe’s leading rocket for more than a quarter of a century, which flew 117 times from the European Space Base in French Guiana between 1996 and 2023.

Ariane 6 is designed for all possible futures. The essence is maximum versatility. It can place any satellite or payload into any spatial orbit. This is made possible by a new restartable Vinci engine that will power Ariane 6’s upper stage over and over again, inserting stop points and starting missions in any desired orbit. The rocket will provide enough fuel for a final burn to return safely through Earth’s atmosphere, or return to a nearby “burying orbit.”

Corey in the research room

Curie will be launched into a circular near-Earth orbit, flying 580 kilometers above the Earth’s surface and outside our planet’s radio-absorbing ionosphere.

“When we were offered a spot on the maiden flight of Ariane 6, the CURIE team was very excited,” recalls David Sundqvist, the mission’s principal investigator. “It’s a big event in the world of rocketry and space exploration.”

“For a team developing a new concept – a satellite radio interferometer – the launch on the inaugural flight of the new European rocket is a dream come true for satellite developers.”

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