Quick Facts: Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP)

This illustration shows the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe, or IMAP, observing signals from the interaction of the solar wind with the winds of other stars. (Courtesy NASA)

Mission Introduction

The IMAP mission will help researchers better understand the fundamental mysteries that occur at the boundary of the heliosphere, a sort of magnetic bubble surrounding and protecting our solar system. This region is where the constant flow of particles from our Sun, called the solar wind, collides with material from the rest of the galaxy. This collision limits the amount of harmful cosmic radiation entering the heliosphere. IMAP will collect and analyze particles that make it through.

Another objective of the mission is to learn more about the generation of cosmic rays in the heliosphere. Cosmic rays created locally and from the galaxy and beyond affect human explorers in space and can harm technological systems, and likely play a role in the presence of life itself in the universe.

The spacecraft will be positioned about one million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth towards the Sun at what is called the first Lagrange point, or L1. This will allow the probe to maximize use of its instruments to monitor the interactions between solar wind and the interstellar medium in the outer solar system.

IMAP was selected following an extensive and competitive peer review of proposals submitted in late 2017. The mission is cost-capped at $492 million, excluding cost for the launch vehicle. The mission will carry 10 science instruments provided by international and domestic research organizations and universities.

LASP Roles

LASP will provide:

  • The Interstellar Dust Experiment (IDEX)
  • IDEX co-investigators Mihaly Horanyi and Zoltan Sternovsky
  • Science operations (SOC) for the mission; LASP is responsible for all instrument operations and data-handling functions
    • Payload Operations Center
    • Science Data Center
    • SOC lead investigator Dan Baker

IMAP’s suite of 10 instruments will work together to resolve scientific questions about the solar wind and the interstellar medium. The Interstellar Dust Experiment (IDEX) will provide the first accurate in-situ measurements of the flux, size distribution, and chemical composition of interstellar dust particles flowing through our solar system. (Courtesy IMAP)

LASP Instrument

The Interstellar Dust Experiment (IDEX) is a high-resolution, compositional dust analyzer that provides the speed and mass distributions, and the elemental and chemical composition of interstellar dust particles. IDEX links the composition of solar wind pickup ions with the makeup of the interstellar dust particles. IDEX has two components, an electronics enclosure and a sensor head with a large effective target area (>700 cm2) to collect a statistically significant number of dust impacts. A mass spectrum is obtained for each particle measured from the time-of-flight analysis of the impact-generated atomic and molecular ions. IDEX is based on the Cassini Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA).

Quick Facts

Launch date: 2024
Launch location: TBD
Launch vehicle: TBD
Mission target: From the first Lagrange Point (L1), IMAP will monitor the interactions between solar wind and the interstellar medium in the outer solar system.
Mission duration:
Other organizations involved:

  • Princeton University
  • Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
  • NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center