NASA has selected a proposal by Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) to examine the feasibility of a mission to study the interstellar boundary, the region between our solar system and interstellar space. The proposal is one of five candidates vying for two mission slots in NASA's Explorer Program of low cost, rapidly developed scientific spacecraft.
The Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission led by SwRI would launch a pair of energetic neutral atom (ENA) "cameras" to image the interaction between the solar system and the low-density material between the stars, the interstellar medium -- an interaction that has never been directly observed before.
"Using energetic neutral atom imaging, IBEX would see the global interactions between the solar wind and interstellar medium for the first time," says Principal Investigator Dr. David J. McComas, who also serves as executive director of the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division. "This would give us a much deeper understanding of the Sun's -- our star's -- interaction with the galaxy," he says.
For IBEX, SwRI is partnering with other flight hardware developers Orbital Science Corporation, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center, Goddard Space Flight Center, the University of New Hampshire, and the Applied Physics Laboratory. In addition, the team includes a number of U.S. and international scientists from universities and other institutions, as well as the Adler Planetarium, who are leading education and public outreach for the mission.
In addition to IBEX, NASA selected the Normal-incidence Extreme Ultraviolet Spectrometer (NEXUS), led by the Goddard Space Flight Center; the Dark Universe Observatory (DUO), led by Carnegie-Mellon University; the Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), led by the California Institute of Technology; and the Jupiter Magnetospheric Explorer (JMEX), led by the University of Colorado.
Each team will receive $450,000 to conduct a five-month concept study, after which NASA will thoroughly evaluate the program content and technical, schedule and cost feasibilities of the proposals. The agency expects to make its mission selections in the fall of 2004, with launches scheduled for 2007 and 2008.
Should NASA select IBEX for development, total mission cost would be $132 million.
Southwest Research Institute
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