You are on page 1of 3

Donald Savage

Headquarters, Washington, DC March 19, 1998
(Phone: 202/358-1547)

Donna Drelick/Jim Sahli
Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD
(Phone: 301/286-8955)

RELEASE: 98-48

NASA'S TRANSITION REGION AND CORONAL EXPLORER MISSION SET
TO
STUDY THE SUN'S TURBULENT UPPER ATMOSPHERE

NASA's Transition Region and Coronal Explorer (TRACE)
mission, scheduled for launch at 9:40 p.m. EST (6:40 p.m. PST)
March 30, 1998, will greatly improve understanding of events in
the Sun's atmosphere, including intense storms and flares,
which can have an impact on power and communications systems on
Earth.

The TRACE mission will join a fleet of spacecraft studying
the Sun during a critical period when solar activity is
beginning its rise to a peak early in the new millennium. The
Sun goes through an 11-year cycle from a period of numerous
intense storms and sunspots to a period of relative calm and
then back again. The coming months in the Sun's cycle will
provide solar scientists with periods of strong solar activity
interspersed with periods when the Sun is relatively passive
and quiet. This will give TRACE the chance to study the full
range of solar conditions, even in its relatively short planned
lifetime.

TRACE will train its powerful telescope on the dynamic so-
called 'transition region' of the Sun's atmosphere, between the
relatively cool surface and lower atmosphere of the Sun where
temperatures are about 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and the
extremely hot upper atmosphere called the corona, where
temperatures are up to 16 million degrees Fahrenheit. Using
instruments sensitive to extreme-ultraviolet and ultraviolet
wavelengths of light, TRACE will study the detailed connections
between the fine-scale surface features and the overlying,
changing atmospheric structures of hot, ionized gas, called
plasma. The surface features and atmospheric structures are
linked by fine-scale solar magnetic fields.
The power of the TRACE telescope to do detailed studies of
the solar atmosphere makes this observatory unique among the
current group of spacecraft studying the Sun.

"The spacecraft has roughly ten times the temporal
resolution and five times the spatial resolution of previously
launched solar spacecraft. Its findings are eagerly awaited by
the solar science community," said Dr. Alan Title, TRACE
principal investigator from the Stanford Lockheed Institute for
Scientific Research in Palo Alto, CA. "We can expect to
resolve some present mysteries of the Sun's atmospheric
dynamics as well as discover new and exciting phenomena."

TRACE will be launched into a polar orbit to enable
virtually continuous observations of the Sun, uninterrupted by
the Earth's shadow for months at a time. This orbit will give
the mission the greatest chance of observing the random
processes which lead to flares and massive eruptions in the
Sun's atmosphere.

The TRACE telescope is really four telescopes in one. Its
30-centimeter (12-inch) primary and six-centimeter (2-inch)
secondary super-polished mirrors are individually coated in
four distinct quadrants to allow light from different
bandwidths (colors) to be reflected and analyzed. An
electronic detector collects images over a 231,000-by-231,000-
mile field of view, nearly 25 percent of the Sun's disk. A
powerful data handling computer enables very flexible use of
the detector array including adaptive target selection, data
compression and image stabilization.

"TRACE was completed on time, under budget, and met all
performance goals," said Jim Watzin, Small Explorer project
manager, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. "I'm
really proud of this team. They have produced a magnificent
observatory in a manner that saved NASA nearly $9.7 million
over the initial cost estimate." TRACE, which costs $49
million, is the third launch in the Small Explorer series of
small, quickly developed, relatively low-cost missions.

TRACE will be launched on an Orbital Sciences Corp.,
Dulles, VA, Pegasus-XL rocket released from an L-1011 jet
aircraft at the Western Range, Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA.
The launch window is open for 10 minutes.
TRACE will be the first space science mission with an open
data policy. All data obtained by TRACE will be available to
other scientists, students and the general public shortly after
the information becomes available to the primary science team.

The TRACE telescope was designed and developed in
cooperation between Lockheed Martin Corp. and Stanford
University. The spacecraft was designed and tested at Goddard,
which manages the mission for the Office of Space Science at
NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.

Further information about the TRACE mission can be found on
the Internet at:

http://sunland.gsfc.nasa.gov/smex/trace

TRACE science information can be found at:

http://www.space.lockheed.com/TRACE/welcome.html

- end -