Space Mission in Search of a Name (Astronomy)

The European Space Agency has launched a competition to name the new mission in the field of space weather, which is currently under development. The mission includes a spacecraft that will follow the Earth along its orbit, approximately 150 million km away, and will be used to detect potentially dangerous solar storms before they reach our planet.

“It is a difficult business to name cats,” wrote TS Eliot in the first poem of The Book of Handyman Cats , which many years later would inspire the famous musical Cats . Well, naming a space mission is just as complex. From acronyms, often unpronounceable, to mythological characters and tributes to scientists of the past, in sixty years or more of exploration, space agencies have tried them all, and the choice of a name that represents both the objectives of the project and the community science that conceived it and, why not, maybe even have a certain appeal to the general public has become a collective exercise not just.

And so, for the new space weather mission currently under development, the European Space Agency (ESA) has decided to address the public by launching the contest “ The No-Name Mission ” – the mission without a name.

In fact, for years, insiders have used the name ‘Lagrange’ to talk about the concept behind this mission. The orbital position chosen for the spacecraft, in fact, is the fifth Lagrange point (L5), one of the five stable points of the Earth-Sun system, which follows our planet along its orbit at a distance of about 150 million km.

The position of the five Lagrangian points of the Earth-Sun system. Credits: Esa

From point L5, Earth and Sun appear separated by about 60º and it is therefore possible to see another “face” of the Sun compared to the one visible from the planet: a very convenient configuration to keep an eye on our star and identify signs in good time of solar activity – from sunspots to potentially dangerous solar storms. In fact, it is not a purely scientific mission but an operational project to provide real-time data to the ESA space weather service and its centers throughout Europe.

«One of the best ways to observe rapidly changing solar activity is to place a dedicated spacecraft slightly away from our direct line to the Sun, so that it can observe the ‘side’ of our star before it rotates in our direction of view. »Explains Juha-Pekka Luntama , head of space weather at the ESA control center in Darmstadt, Germany.

The competition is open until 12:00 (Italian time) on October 17, 2021. The rules are simple: you have to propose a name with a maximum of three words that reflects the objectives of the mission, without repeating a name in use for past, present or future of the ESA or other space agencies. The proposed name cannot be a proper name (but names from classical mythology are fine), infringe copyright and copyright or contain special characters, and must be written in a European language.

The winning entry will be announced in October. In addition to the honor of naming the mission, the prize consists of a voucher for the ESA Space shop . Citizens of ESA member states (including associated members or countries that have cooperation agreements with ESA), member states of the European Union, Argentina, Australia and partner countries of the International Space Station can participate.

To know more:

  • Read the competition rules on the ESA website (in English)
  • Read the objectives of the currently unnamed mission (in English)
  • Enter the contest “The No-Name Mission” through this form (in English)

Watch the ESA video (in English):

Featured image: Illustration of the future space mission of the European Space Agency for monitoring space weather. Credits: Esa / A. Baker, Cc By-Sa 3.0 Igo

Provided by INAF

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