NASA and partner agencies detail new Interstellar Probe mission

The first objects made by humans to travel into interstellar space were Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. The spacecraft transitioned into interstellar space in 2012 and 2018, respectively, after being in space for more than four decades. Researchers can mark when the spacecraft entered interstellar space because they left the protective heliosphere created by the sun.

It's been four decades since NASA created spacecraft specifically with the intent of exploring interstellar space, it and partner agencies are currently planning the next interstellar spacecraft. Currently, the spacecraft is called the Interstellar Probe, and it's designed to travel deeper into interstellar space to a distance of 1000 astronomical units from the sun.

The goal of the program is to learn more about how the heliosphere formed and how it evolves. NASA says the Interstellar Probe will go to unknown local interstellar space where humans have never been. The probe aims to take a picture of the heliosphere from outside to see what our solar system looks like.

Researchers constituting 500 scientists, engineers, and enthusiasts described as both formal and informal partners have been studying the type of investigations the team should plan for. The team planning the mission hopes to address many mysteries, including how the sun's plasma interacts with interstellar gas to create the heliosphere. Researchers also want to learn how the sun interacts with the local galaxy to discover clues that hint at how other stars in the galaxy interact with their interstellar neighborhoods.

The heliosphere is critical to life on Earth, shielding the solar system from high-energy galactic cosmic rays. Another interesting tidbit is that the sun is currently in something known as the Local Interstellar Cloud. Research suggests it may be moving towards the edge of the cloud and entering a new region of interstellar space. Currently, the project is in the final year of a four-year pragmatic concept study where the team investigates what science could be accomplished in the mission. A report will be delivered to NASA at the end of the year, and the mission could launch in the early 2030s.