NASA’s Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP) mission held a critical design review (CDR) this week with a NASA Standing Review Board. This mission-level review was the culmination of individual CDRs conducted for all the instruments and subsystems. While there are still challenges ahead to face as a team, the review board is confident that IMAP has a plan to succeed. Although CDR is often a gate to spacecraft and instrument construction, IMAP has already begun building important components and flight models, as well as the overall spacecraft structure. With 10 instruments designed and built globally, the complicated dance of testing, cross-calibrating, and integrating these pieces is carefully choreographed so that the completed observatory can be ready for launch in 2025.
IMAP will explore our solar neighborhood, 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 to L1, the point between the Sun and Earth where gravitational forces balance. IMAP’s other instruments collect information from the Sun’s solar wind and some provide real-time updates about Space Weather conditions.
The SRB Chair noted that IMAP was “good to go” forward, even though it has a lot of work still to do.
Professor of Astrophysical Sciences and IMAP PI David J. McComas expressed his gratitude to the board for the good questions and admitted a low-sleep week as the team pondered improving solutions and responses to those issues.
McComas said to the team, “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.”
Deputy PI Nathan Schwadron said, “We're finally starting to see the integration of all these efforts, which is absolutely remarkable for me to see. 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, getting them to work together. It really is our commitment to discovery as a team that helps make the transition from concept to reality.”
Princeton University professor David J. McComas leads the mission with an international team of 24 partner institutions. The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland builds the spacecraft and operates 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 in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages the STP Program for the agency’s Heliophysics Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.