Featured Image Source: SpaceX
Surrounding our solar system lies a barrier of super-hot plasma called the heliosphere, it is a giant wall of fire created by the Sun that defines the edge of interstellar space. NASA plans to send an Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) to research the boundary that separates our solar system from other star systems. Today, September 25, NASA announced it selected SpaceX to launch the agency’s IMAP probe towards the heliosphere atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The mission is scheduled for October 2024.
– “IMAP will help researchers better understand the boundary of the heliosphere, a magnetic barrier surrounding our solar system. This region is where the constant flow of particles from our Sun, called the solar wind, collides with winds from other stars,” the agency explains in a press release, “This collision limits the amount of harmful cosmic radiation entering the heliosphere. IMAP will collect and map neutral particles that make it through, as well as investigate the fundamental processes of how particles are accelerated in space, from its vantage point orbiting the Sun at the Lagrange 1 point directly between the Sun and Earth.”
As of 2019, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are NASA’s only probes that have left our solar system, crossed the heliosphere, and reached interstellar space, pictured below. Voyager 1 was launched in September 5, 1977, it crossed the heliopause and entered interstellar space on August 25, 2012, it became the first spacecraft to do so. Voyager 2 was launched by NASA on August 20, 1977, to study Jupiter and Saturn, the craft also investigated Uranus and Neptune. It is the only spacecraft to have visited the two giant planets. Voyager 2 crossed the heliosphere and reached interstellar space in November 2018. These spacecrafts have been in operation for a bit over 43 years. Now, NASA plans to further investigate the heliosphere with the IMAP probe, which will feature modern technology.
Alongside the IMAP probe, will ride four secondary payloads atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 fairing. These payloads include:
-The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Follow On-Lagrange 1 (SWFO-L1) mission, which will collect coronal imagery and solar wind data to monitor and forecast space weather events.
-NASA’s Lunar Trailblazer mission, which will investigate and quantify water deposits on the moon’s surface.
-Two additional payloads that are part of NASA heliophysics missions to study how the Sun’s nature influences planets and space.
“The total cost for NASA to launch IMAP and the secondary payloads is approximately $109.4 million, which includes the launch service and other mission-related costs,” the agency announced. “NASA’s Launch Services Program at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida will manage the SpaceX launch service. The mission is led by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is responsible for the mission’s overall management, system engineering, integration, and testing and mission operations.”
Also catching a ride on this mission are a critical @NOAA solar storm warning beacon and a @NASAJPL smallsat to explore lunar water deposits— SpaceX (@SpaceX) September 25, 2020
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.