Interstellar Probe (1999)

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Concept art for the proposed spacecraft, backdropped by stars

Interstellar Probe is the name of a 1999 space probe concept by NASA intended to travel out 200 AU in 15 years.[1] This 1999 study by Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is noted for its circular 400 meters diameter, solar sail as a propulsion method (1 g/m2) combined with a 0.25 AU flyby of the Sun to achieve higher solar light pressure, after which the sail is jettisoned at 5 AU distance from the Sun.[2]

Solar sail[edit]

Solar sails work by converting the energy in light into a momentum on the spacecraft, thus propelling the spacecraft.[3] Felix Tisserand noted the effect of light pressure on comet tails in the 1800s.[3]

The study by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, proposed using a solar sail to accelerate a spacecraft to reach the interstellar medium. It was planned to reach as far as 200 AU within 10 years at a speed of 14 AU/year (about 70 km/s, and function up to 400+ AU.[1] A critical technology for the mission is a large 1 g/m2 solar sail.[1]

This great journey requires advanced propulsion, and the 200-kg Interstellar Probe is designed to use a 200-m radius solar sail to achieve a velocity of 14 AU/year. After exiting the heliosphere within a decade of launch, it would be capable of continuing on to ~400 AU. Interstellar Probe would serve as the first step in a more ambitious program to explore the outer solar system and nearby galactic neighborhood.

Interstellar Probe, 1999[4]

In the following years there were additional studies, including the Innovative Interstellar Explorer (published 2003), which focused on a design using RTGs powering an ion engine rather than a solar sail. Another project in this field for advanced spaceflight during this period was the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Program which ran from 1996 through 2002.

Later examples of solar sail-propelled spacecraft include IKAROS, Nanosail-D2, and LightSail.[5] Near-Earth Asteroid Scout is a planned light sail-propelled mission.[6] For comparison, the LightSail spacecraft uses a sail 5 micron in thickness, whereas they predict a sail with 1 micron thickness would be needed for interstellar travel.[3]

Other design features[edit]

The probe would use an advanced radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) for electrical power, Ka band radio for communication with Earth, a Delta 2 rocket for Earth launch, and a 25 kg instrument package using 20 watts.[1]



Historical view of region[edit]

This is a look at the region the probe as it was predicted at the time

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Interstellar Probe". Archived from the original on 2009-07-31. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  2. ^ "4 An Interstellar Probe to the Boundaries of the Heliosphere and Nearby Interstellar Space - Exploration of the Outer Heliosphere and the Local Interstellar Medium: A Workshop Report - The National Academies Press". doi:10.17226/11135.
  3. ^ a b c "Propelled by light: the promise and perils of solar sailing".
  4. ^ "NASA IP".
  5. ^ "LightSail Space Mission Will Shine Global Spotlight on Solar Sails".
  6. ^ "NEA-Scout".

External links[edit]