Interstellar Probe would be a first-of-its-kind voyage beyond the Kuiper Belt, through the boundary of the Sun's giant magnetic bubble in to galactic space. The groundbreaking science of an Interstellar Probe crosses-over disciplinary mission goals.
With a goal of reaching 1,000 astronomical units – about 1,000 times the distance between Earth and the Sun ¬ – Interstellar Probe would take humanity's first deliberate step on the path to the stars. Traveling farther and faster than even the legendary Voyager spacecraft, Interstellar Probe would begin its flyby phase of objects and dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt in just about four years. Ten to 15 years after launch, the mission's outer heliosphere phase would commence – a mark the Voyager missions took more than 40 years to reach. Ultimately, after 50 years, the Interstellar Probe would reach the pristine interstellar medium and zoom deeper into the galaxy to explore as long as its power source would allow.
From the dawn of the Space Age and the establishment of NASA, an Interstellar Probe mission has a topic of fascination and discussion. The remarkable science opportunities that arise from such a mission have fueled the space science community for almost six decades, and led to multiple international studies. A team led by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) is shaping the latest and most detailed of these concepts, a trade study of a realistic mission architecture that includes available (or soon-to-be available) launch vehicles, kick stages, operations concepts and reliability standards. The trade study would serve as a useful reference for science and technology definition team. APL's work has been aided by nearly 200 professional scientists and engineers worldwide, and supplemented by the creative efforts of authors, filmmakers and other visionaries – all in pursuit of interstellar space exploration.
Only five spacecraft have escaped the Sun's gravity field to travel to the outer solar system toward interstellar space: Pioneer 10 and 11, Voyagers 1 and 2, and New Horizons. Any Interstellar Probe spacecraft must be autonomous, compact and lightweight, and lean on power –yet robust enough to gather data and communicate with operators on Earth. Relying on heritage, the team is using the New Horizons spacecraft as its baseline design, with incremental improvements as needed. As with the Pioneers, Voyagers and New Horizons, the baseline power source is a radioisotope thermoelectric generator, which provides reliable power over long mission lifetimes and great distances from the Sun.
All of the instrument technologies needed to achieve an interstellar mission's science goals exist today. Given the delicate balance between asymptotic speed and mass, the study leads are seeking solutions that combine certain instrumentation to save mass, power and data rates.
A payload that addresses all science goals notionally consists of:
The Washington Post
Join the Interstellar Probe eNews list to receive updates about the mission.
If you no longer wish to receive Interstellar Probe eNews, please click here to be taken to the unsubscribe page.