NASA To Explore Deep Space With New Spacecraft—10 Things You Should Know

Astronomers revealed the plan for NASA's future Interstellar Probe, aimed to reach farther in space than any mission to date.

Astronomers have presented a plan for scientific research of the new Interstellar Probe research apparatus, which should reach the mark of one thousand astronomical units from the Sun in 50 years. The design of the new probe is similar to the New Horizons spacecraft, which explored Pluto, and its launch is scheduled for the 2030s.

The boundary of the heliosphere, where the solar wind meets streams of plasma, gas, and dust from the Local Interstellar Cloud, is located at distances from 90 to 120 astronomical units from the Sun (for comparison, Pluto is located at a distance of 39.5 astronomical units from the Sun).

This is a region that is extremely interesting for astrophysicists because many physical processes take place, which are responsible not only for the shape and dynamics of our heliosphere but also for the astrospheres of other stars.

To date, four vehicles have crossed it, and only two of them (Voyager 1 and Voyager 2) have been able to receive valuable scientific data while exploring the environment. Another device – New Horizons – will cross the border of the heliosphere in the future, but by that time it will have already stopped working.

Scheme of the Interstellar Probe scientific program. Credit: Johns Hopkins APL
Scheme of the Interstellar Probe scientific program. Credit: John Hopkins APL

10 Things You Should Know About NASA’s New Interstellar Probe

1. The development of the spacecraft began in 2017 as part of NASA’s heliophysics program.

2. It is expected that the interstellar probe will be able to reach the mark of a thousand astronomical units from the Sun before it stops working.

3. The mission’s scientific program is quite extensive – the interstellar spacecraft should help scientists understand the size, shape, and structure of the heliosphere, whether there is a bow shock wave, and what are the properties of the hydrogen wall.

4. In addition, researchers are interested in the influence of the Sun on the parameters of the local interstellar medium and vice versa, the processes of acceleration and capture of particles at the boundary of the heliosphere, Kuiper belt objects, as well as the properties of interstellar neutral gas and dust penetrating into the heliosphere, and their differences from the matter of the Solar system.

5. The mass of the apparatus will be 850-950 kilograms, of which about 90 kilograms will be for scientific equipment: analyzers of plasma, charged and neutral particles, dust and cosmic ray sensors, a magnetometer, and cameras.

6. Two new generation radioisotope power sources will be installed onboard. To exchange data with the Earth, a five-meter antenna operating in the X-band will be used, which should provide data transmission at a speed of 500 bits per second from a distance of 1000 astronomical units.

Possible design of NASA's new interstellar probe. Credit: Johns Hopkins APL
Possible design of NASA’s new interstellar probe. Credit: John Hopkins APL

7. The design of the new interstellar probe will be similar to the New Horizons apparatus.

8. At present, the analysis of the mission concept is being finalized and a report is being prepared for NASA, which should determine the date of the beginning of the creation of both scientific instruments and the probe itself.

9. The probe is expected to be launched into space in the 2030s using the SLS Block 2 launch vehicle.

10. After that, the interstellar probe will make a gravitational maneuver near Jupiter and will develop a speed of 7-8 astronomical units per year until it reaches the heliosphere 15 years after the launch. The Interstellar Probe is expected to operate for at least fifty years.

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Carter, J. (2021, April 27). NASA’s new ‘Voyager’: 7 things to know about the 50-YEAR ‘INTERSTELLAR Probe’ mission to burst our cosmic bubble.
O’Neill, M. (2021, April 28). Probing deep space with a new interstellar spacecraft.
Parton, J. (2021, April 26). NASA’s new spacecraft will explore the reaches of interstellar space.
Provornikova, E., Brandt, P., Ralph L. McNutt, J., DeMajistre, R., Roelof, E., Mostafavi, P., . . . Runyon, K. (2021, March 03). Unique heliophysics SCIENCE opportunities along the interstellar probe journey up to 1000 AU from the sun.
Sever, M. (n.d.). Probing deep space with interstellar.

Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.
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