than 25 years.2-5 The scientific objectives of such a mission have been articulated by a variety of panels and studies, most recently by NASA’s Interstellar Probe Science and Technology Definition Team (IPSTDT).6

The principal scientific goals of an interstellar probe are as follows:7

  • Explore the outer heliosphere and the nature of its boundaries;

  • Explore the outer solar system in search of clues to its origin;

  • Explore the interaction of the solar system with the interstellar medium; and

  • Explore the nature of the nearby interstellar medium.

Although an interstellar probe was rated as a high scientific priority by the SSP decadal survey, it was deferred

TABLE 4.1 Selected Studies of a Mission to the Interstellar Medium

Mission

Propulsion System

Reference

Interstellar Precursor

Nuclear-electric system to 400+ AU

a

Thousand Astronomical Units

Nuclear-electric system to 1,000 AU

b

Interstellar Probe (NASA’s 1990 Space Physics Roadmap)

Chemical system sending a 1,000-kg spacecraft to 200 AU using powered solar flyby

c

Interstellar Probe (NASA’s 1994 Space Physics Roadmap)

Chemical system sending a small spacecraft to 200 AU

d

Interstellar Probe (NASA’s 1999 Space Physics Roadmap)

Solar-sail system to 200 AU

e, f

Realistic Interstellar Explorer

Jupiter flyby and use of a solar-thermal propulsion system at 4 solar radii to send a small payload to 1,000 AU in <50 years

g

Innovative Interstellar Explorer

Ion propulsion powered by radioisotope power systems used to send a small payload to 200 AU in 30 years

h

a. L.D. Jaffe, C. Ivie, J.C. Lewis, R. Lipes, H.N. Norton, J.W. Stearns, L.D. Stimpson, and P. Weissman, An Interstellar Precursor Mission, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., 1977.

b. M.I. Etchegaray, Preliminary Scientific Rationale for a Voyage to a Thousand Astronomical Units, JPL 87-17, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., 1987.

c. T.E. Holzer, R.A. Mewaldt, and M. Neugebauer, “The Interstellar Probe: A Frontier Mission to the Heliospheric Boundary and Interstellar Space,” Proceedings of the 22nd International Cosmic Ray Conference (Dublin, Ireland) 2, 535, 1991.

d. R.A. Mewaldt, J. Kangas, S.J. Kerridge, and M. Neugebauer, “A Small Interstellar Probe to the Heliospheric Boundary and Interstellar Space,” Acta Astronautica Supplement 35:267–276, 1995.

e. P.C. Liewer, R.A. Mewaldt, J.A. Ayon, and R.A. Wallace, “NASA’s Interstellar Probe Mission,” p. 911 in Space Technology and Applications International Forum-2000, AIP CP504, M.S. El-Genk, ed., American Institute of Physics, Melville, N.Y., 2000.

f. R.A. Mewaldt and P.C. Liewer, “Scientific Payload for an Interstellar Probe mission,” p. 451 in The Outer Heliosphere: The Next Frontiers, K. Scherer, H. Fichtner, H.J. Fahr, and E. Marsch, eds., COSPAR Colloquia Series 11, Pergamon Press, Amsterdam, 2001.

g. R.L. McNutt, Jr., G.B. Andrews, J. McAdams, R.E. Gold, A. Santo, D. Oursler, K. Heeres, M. Fraeman, and B. Williams, “A Realistic Interstellar Probe,” pp. 431–434 in The Outer Heliosphere: The Next Frontiers, K. Scherer, H. Fichtner, H.J. Fahr, and E. Marsch, eds., COSPAR Colloquia Series 11, Pergamon Press, Amsterdam, 2001.

h. R.L. McNutt, Jr., J. Leary, M. Gruntman, P. Koehn, S. Oleson, D. Fiehler, R. Gold, S. Krimigis, E. Roelof, G. Gloeckler, and W. Kurth, “Innovative Interstellar Explorer: Radioisotope Electric Propulsion to the Interstellar Medium,” 41st Joint Propulsion Conference, AIAA-2005-4272, Tucson, Arizona, 2005.



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