Test Chamber for NASA’s New Cosmic Mapmaker Makes Dramatic Entrance

SPHEREx hardware being lowered into a basement lab.

It required three years of design and construction, a monthlong boat ride across the Pacific Ocean, and a 30-ton crane, but the customized test chamber for NASA’s upcoming Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) space telescope has finally reached its destination at Caltech’s Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics.

Set to launch no earlier than June 2024 and managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), SPHEREx will make a totally unique map of the cosmos that will contain hundreds of millions of objects, including stars, galaxies, star-forming regions, and other cosmic wonders. Unlike any previous map, it will provide images of individual objects as well as a light spectrum for every point in the sky. A spectrum can contain a treasure trove of information about a cosmic object, including its chemical composition and age, and its distance to faraway galaxies.

“SPHEREx uses its unique all-sky spectral map to survey for icy biogenic molecules in regions where stars are being born, chart the cosmic history of galaxy formation, and search for the signatures of the Big Bang in the 3-D distribution of distant galaxies,” says SPHEREx principal investigator James (Jamie) Bock, a professor of physics at Caltech and senior research scientist at JPL, which is managed by Caltech for NASA.

But for SPHEREx to make that possible, it has to not only be able to withstand the rigors of space but thrive there. That’s where the custom test chamber at Caltech, built by the Korean Astronomy and Space Science Institute (KASI), a partner in the SPHEREx mission, comes in. About the size of a small SUV and made of stainless steel, the cylindrical chamber will be used to test SPHEREx’s detectors (essentially its cameras) and optics, the system that collects light from the cosmos.

Read the full JPL story at their website. A video of the test-chamber’s arrival and installation is also available.

More About the Mission

SPHEREx is managed by JPL for NASA’s Astrophysics Division within the Science Mission Directorate in Washington D.C. Bock is the mission’s principal investigator. Ball Aerospace in Boulder, Colorado, will supply the spacecraft. The science analysis of the SPHEREx data will be conducted by a team of scientists located at 10 institutions across the U.S. and in South Korea. Data will be processed and archived at IPAC at Caltech. The SPHEREx dataset will be publicly available.

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