Since 2018 the Interstellar Research Centre, through its parent company Stellar Engines Ltd, has been collaborating with Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, in the United States, on the design of a space mission to a distance of 1,000 AU.

In December 2017 the US space agency NASA began work on an interstellar precursor mission to be sent past the Voyager spacecraft and to be launched by the year 2069. It was to search for biosignatures on planets around other stars. This project started when the US Representative John Culberson, the chair of the House of Representatives Appropriations sub-panel that overseas NASA, included a call for an ambitious mission of this type, timed for the centenary of the Apollo moon landings. The report by the committee included a bill setting the NASA budget for the 2017 fiscal year. In the report, it stated that they “encouraged NASA to study and develop propulsion concepts that could enable an interstellar scientific probe with the capability of achieving a cruise velocity of 0.1c.” The report language doesn’t mandate any additional funding, but calls on NASA to draw up a technology assessment report and conceptual road map within 1 year.

It is in response to this that the JHAPL began their study into a 1,000 AU mission. Key meetings have taken place at the AGU in New Orleans in 2017, the Symposium on the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) in Pasadena in 2018, American Geophysical Union meeting in D.C in 2018 and at the Explorers Club of New York City in 2018. The Interstellar Research Centre has participated in all of these meetings.

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See here for a poster given some information on the proposed mission:

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Download Poster here

The Interstellar Research Centre continues to collaborate with Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory on the 1,000 AU space mission as a potential heliospheric decadal mission proposal.

References:

  1. P C Brandt et al., Cross-Divisional Science Enabled by an Interstellar Probe to the Local Interstellar Medium, Submitted to NASA, 2018.

  2. P C Brandt et al., Interstellar Probe: The Compelling Science Case, Strawman Payload and Resources, Poster Presentation, Cospa 2018, Pasadena, USA.