As part of its next modest astrophysics project, NASA will create a gamma-ray telescope that will be used to examine the production of chemical elements throughout the galaxy. Astrophysics mission Compton Spectrometer and Imager (COSI) will be developed as NASA’s next small Explorer, or SMEX, spacecraft, the agency announced on October 18. COSI will be developed as NASA’s next small Explorer, or SMEX, spacecraft. Aiming to start in 2025, the COSI project, coordinated by John Tomsick of the University of California Berkeley, has been scheduled for completion.

Soft gamma rays with energies ranging between 0.2 to 5 million electron volts are targeted by COSI, which is designed to detect them. This set of observations is intended to investigate the gamma rays generated by the annihilation of positrons, which are the antimatter version of the electrons, and to determine why these emissions are localized around the center of the galaxy. As part of this investigation, it will look into nucleosynthesis or even the creation of heavier elements in supernova explosions.

As a result of the selection of COSI, NASA’s associate administrator for science, Thomas Zurbuchen, said in a statement, “COSI will answer questions concerning the genesis of chemical components in our Milky Way galaxy, the very materials vital to the birth of Earth itself.”

COSI was among four finalists in the most recent SMEX competition, and it was awarded funds for preliminary studies in March 2020. ESCAPE (Extreme Ultraviolet Stellar Characterization for Atmospheric Physics and Evolution) was a single mission that was a finalist in the competition. It would have looked for ultraviolet flares around nearby stars. A pair of small satellites called the Gravitational-wave Ultraviolet Counterpart Imager Mission, as well as the LargE Area burst Polarimeter (LEAP), equipment that would have been mounted on the International Space Station, were the other two “missions of opportunity.”

When it came to flying similar equipment on high-altitude balloons, the project team drew on their previous experience, which included a flight in 2016 with similar equipment. The instrument, known as a Compton telescope, is going to be carried by spacecraft in the low Earth orbit for the purpose of the forthcoming mission. COSI is anticipated to cost $145 million, not including the cost of launch. A later date will be determined by NASA for the selection of launch services for the mission. NASA’s choice of COSI comes at a time when the last astrophysics mission, SMEX, is about to launch. The Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE) satellite has been scheduled to launch on December 9 from Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

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