NASA’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe Completes Critical Design Review

Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP)

Artist’s impression of the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP). The mission will help us better understand the flow of particles from the Sun called the solar wind — and how those particles interact with space within the solar system and beyond. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Princeton University/Steve Gribben

NASA’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) mission held a critical design review (CDR) last week with a NASA Standing Review Board (SRB). This mission-level review was the culmination of individual CDRs conducted for all the instruments and subsystems. While there are still challenges ahead to face as a team, the review board is confident that IMAP has a plan to succeed.

Although CDR is often a gate to spacecraft construction, IMAP has already begun building important components such as instrument engineering and flight models as well as parts of the structure. With 10 instruments designed and built globally, the complicated dance of testing, cross-calibrating, and integrating these pieces is carefully choreographed so that the completed observatory will be ready for launch in 2025.

NASA Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe IMAP

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. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

IMAP will explore our solar neighborhood, known as the heliosphere, and decode the messages in particles from the Sun and beyond. Three of the instrument suites will work together to build detailed maps of the boundaries of the solar system using energetic neutral atoms, which travel from the edge to Lagrange point 1 (L1), the point between the Sun and Earth where gravitational forces balance. IMAP’s other instruments collect information from the Sun’s solar wind and provide timely updates about space weather conditions.

The SRB chair noted that IMAP was “good to go” and had a lot of work to do.

Princeton University professor and IMAP Principal Investigator David J. McComas expressed his gratitude to the board for the good questions and said, “New challenges will surely emerge between now and launch, but I have every confidence in the awesome, committed, and resilient team that we have assembled to carry out this challenging mission.”

“We’re finally starting to see the integration of all these efforts, which is absolutely remarkable for me,” said Deputy Principal Investigator Nathan Schwadron. “We started with an idea. We proposed the concept, and then there’s this shift of momentum into actually making the hardware, building the spacecraft, getting them to work together. It really is our commitment to discovery as a team that helps make the transition from concept to reality.”

McComas leads the mission with an international team of 24 partner institutions. The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, 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 Project 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.

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