IMAP Mission Successfully Completes Critical Design Review

Illustration showing the solar system in a eerie, purplish sphere that's blocking small shooting-star-like objects and the orangish color of the galaxy from entering
The Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (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)

NASA’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) mission held a critical design review last week with a NASA Standing Review Board. This mission-level review, held at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, was the culmination of individual reviews conducted for all the instruments and subsystems.

Although the review — known as a “CDR” — often precedes spacecraft construction, in this case, the IMAP team has already begun building important components, such as instrument engineering and flight models, as well as parts of the structure. With 10 instruments being 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.

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 of the solar system to Lagrange point 1 (L1), the point between the Sun and Earth where gravitational forces balance.

IMAP’s other instruments collect information from the solar wind and provide timely updates about space weather conditions.

While the team still faces challenges, the standing review board was confident that IMAP had a plan to succeed. The board chair noted that IMAP was “good to go” and had a lot of work to do.

Princeton University professor and IMAP Principal Investigator David McComas expressed his gratitude to the board for its good questions, adding, “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 IMAP Deputy Principal Investigator Nathan Schwadron, from the University of New Hampshire. “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 and getting them to work together. It really is our commitment to discovery as a team that helps make the transition from concept to reality.”

“This is a major milestone for one of our largest missions, and would not be possible without the tremendous hard work and problem-solving that hundreds of IMAP team members brought to the table,” said Jason Kalirai, APL’s mission area executive for Civil Space. “Congratulations IMAP!”

McComas leads the mission with an international team of 24 partner institutions. APL 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 manages the STP Program for the agency’s Heliophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

Learn more about the mission on the IMAP website. For additional information on NASA heliophysics missions, visit NASA Sun-Earth.

(Based on a Princeton University news release)

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