Cosmic Cartography Mission: NASA’s IMAP To Set Sail for Interstellar Mapping

Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) in Space

IMAP will study the protective magnetic bubble that surrounds our solar system, called the heliosphere, and the particle acceleration that occurs across it. Credit: NASA/Princeton/Johns Hopkins APL/Josh Diaz

IMAP, set for launch in late April to May 2025, marks a key phase in space exploration, focusing on mapping solar wind interactions and the heliosphere’s boundary. This NASA-led mission, with broad international collaboration, also features a unique public live feed of its development.

The Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) has successfully completed Key Decision Point D (KDP-D). This milestone allows the mission to move from development and design to the assembly, testing, and integration phase. IMAP’s planned launch date, which was no earlier than February 2025, was also reevaluated during the KDP-D and was moved to a target launch window from late April to late May 2025 to ensure that the project team has adequate resources to address risks and technical complexities during system integration and testing.

Role and Impact of IMAP

IMAP will function as a modern-day cartographer and will help us understand what happens when the solar wind (a constant stream of particles from the Sun) collides with materials from interstellar space. This will help researchers map the boundary of the heliosphere, the magnetic bubble created by the solar wind, and better understand how this magnetic bubble protects Earth from large amounts of harmful cosmic radiation. IMAP will be positioned about one million miles from Earth, and its instruments will collect and study the particles that make it through the heliosphere.

Medium Gain Antenna Installation IMAP Spacecraft

The mechanical team is preparing to install the Medium Gain Antenna on the IMAP spacecraft. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Princeton/Ed Whitman

Collaborative Efforts and Public Engagement

Principal investigator and Princeton University professor David McComas leads the IMAP mission, which has an international team of more than 20 partner institutions. Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) is managing the development phase, is building the spacecraft, and will operate the mission. IMAP is the fifth mission in NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Probes (STP) Program portfolio. The Explorers and Heliophysics Projects Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the STP Program for the agency’s Heliophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

The public can watch the spacecraft come together in real-time via a live feed from APL’s clean room, which is now available to watch at any time on the IMAP mission website. Viewers can watch the continuous stream to see exactly how IMAP develops from a bare-bones structure to a complex, fully operational spacecraft.

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