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12.10.19
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It’s Official: NASA Is Considering an Interstellar Mission

October 31st 19__Victor Tangermann__Filed Under: Hard Science
NASA/Victor Tangermann

Going Interstellar

A group of researchers from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory are eager to send a probe into interstellar space, Wired reports. Pending NASA’s approval, they claim the project could launch as soon as 2030.

It could represent “humanity’s first explicit step into interstellar space,” as team member at the Applied Physics Laboratory Pontus Brandt told Wired, years after Voyager 1 became the first-ever human-built spacecraft to reach interstellar space.

Rocket Plan

The basic outline of their proposal, which arose out of a NASA supported interstellar probe study last year, is to launch a spacecraft that weighs less than 1,700 pounds on NASA’s upcoming — but much delayed and over budget — Space Launch System rocket.

It would then use gravity assist to sling it to speeds over 100,000 miles per hour — fast enough to leave the Solar System. The goal is to travel 92 billion miles from Earth in less than 15 years. In comparison, it took almost 40 years for Voyager 1 and 2 to get to just 13 billion miles.

Leaving the Heliosphere

While Voyager 1 and 2 were only outfitted with basic instruments, the proposed spacecraft will be have a host of sensors that could gain a better understanding of interstellar space — which remains largely mysterious to today’s scientists.

And leaving the heliosphere, the bubble-like region of space around the Sun, could provide additional opportunities.

“We’re sitting inside a bubble trying to figure out what shape it is, which is extremely hard,” Brandt told Wired. “The uniqueness of an interstellar probe is that we can go out and take a picture of our habitable little bubble in space.”

READ MORE: NASA Is Getting Serious About an Interstellar Mission [Wired]

More on interstellar space: After the Moon and Mars, NASA Wants to Head to Alpha Centauri in 2069