NASA’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe – IMAP – has completed a key milestone in mission development. After rigorous review, IMAP has passed what is known as Key Decision Point C, or KDP-C, which marks the mission’s progression from formulation to implementation.
As a modern-day celestial cartographer, IMAP will chart the very boundaries of the heliosphere – the bubble surrounding the Sun and planets that is inflated by the solar wind – and study how it interacts with the local galactic neighborhood beyond.
These measurements will help scientists better understand fundamental physics of the heliosphere and our place in the stellar neighborhood at scales both tiny and immense. It will also help scientists understand how the interaction of solar and stellar winds forms a barrier that shields the inner solar system from harmful cosmic rays, which will help protect astronauts.
IMAP will launch into orbit of Earth-Sun Lagrange point 1 – a location towards the Sun about a million miles from Earth – no earlier than 2025.
David McComas of Princeton University leads the IMAP mission and an international team of 24 partner institutions. The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, will build the IMAP spacecraft and operate the mission for NASA. IMAP is the fifth mission in NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Probes (STP) Program portfolio and newest addition to NASA’s fleet of heliophysics spacecraft. The Heliophysics Program Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the STP Program for the Heliophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.