NASA mission will study solar wind in the outer solar system

Project selected after extensive peer-review of proposals submitted last year.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Jan 30, 2019
A new NASA mission that will study the solar wind at the boundary between the outer solar system and interstellar space is set to launch in 2024.

The Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP), which will sample, analyze, and map the charged particles emitted by the Sun that make up the solar wind at the heliosphere, a magnetic bubble surrounding our solar system, was selected by NASA from a group of proposals submitted late last year subjected to a long peer review process.

Cost of the mission, minus that for the launch vehicle, is capped at $492 million. This fifth NASA Solar Terrestrial Probe (STP) will be project managed by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) in Laurel, Maryland.

At the heliosphere, the solar wind collides with interstellar material in a process that limits the level of harmful radiation that passes the boundary into the solar system. IMAP will gather and analyze those particles that successfully cross that boundary.

"This boundary is where our Sun does a great deal to protect us. IMAP is critical to broadening our understanding of how this 'cosmic filter' works," said deputy associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate Dennis Andrucyk.

"The implications of this research could reach well beyond the consideration of Earthly impacts as we look to send humans into deep space."

IMAP will also study how cosmic rays are generated in the heliosphere. These rays can originate both locally in the solar system and further out in the galaxy. Because they can harm both astronauts and electronic systems, understanding them is important for crewed deep space missions.

Cosmic rays are also believed to play a role in the generation of life.

To enable the best use of its instruments, IMAP will be placed in the first Lagrange point or L1 approximately one million miles (1.5 million km) from Earth in the direction of the Sun. Its instruments will monitor interaction between the solar wind and the interstellar medium.

David McComas of Princeton University will serve as the mission's principal investigator.



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