MANTIS, James Webb’s assistant

A university project, selected by NASA, called MANTIS, will conduct complementary investigations to the observations of James Webb
An image of the MANTIS cubesat

Search for exoplanets by the James Webb Space Telescope will receive assistance from a much smaller satellite (cubesat), optimized for observing stellar activity called MANTIS. The $8.5 million cubesat, selected by NASA, is called Monitoring Activity from Nearby Stars with UV Imaging and Spectroscopy.

Two spacecraft will be complementary. While James Webb examines the atmospheres of rocky planets that could potentially host life, MANTIS will examine stellar activity such as flares, after its scheduled launch in 2026.

The MANTIS cubesat

The MANTIS cubesat will scan the sky through the frequency of ultraviolet light. It will also have the capability to venture into longer wavelengths known as extreme ultraviolet. The theory suggests that rocky exoplanets with water on their surface may face additional challenges if they orbit around a highly active star. The limiting factor is the amount of radiation to which such planets would be exposed. MANTIS aims to provide more data to refine this theory through a year of observations from Earth’s orbit.

“We will observe stars of all different types” said Briana Indahl (ref.), a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder and the principal investigator for the MANTIS mission, in a statement. “We want to understand how UV light from stars affects the atmospheres of planets and even their habitability”.

MANTIS will carry two telescopes into space. The first one optimized for low-energy ultraviolet radiation and a second type of telescope that will look into the extreme ultraviolet range. “For many stars, this will be the first time we see how they appear in the extreme ultraviolet” said David Wilson, a researcher leading the mission’s scientific team.

Precursors of the satellite

The MANTIS project is building upon the technology of two other university cubesats. The first one is called Colorado Ultraviolet Transit Experiment (CUTE), launched in 2021, and the Supernova Remnants and Proxies for ReIonization Testbed Experiment (SPRITE), which is expected to search for remnants of exploded stars after its launch in 2024.

Once ready for scientific observation, MANTIS aims to help scientists understand how stellar energy influences the atmospheres of planets in their orbits, especially for those planets that are similar in size to Earth and may be habitable.

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