Interstellar Probes Past, Present, Future

Illustration at current locations and directions of the Interstellar Probes (not including New Horizons). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Illustration at current locations and directions of the Interstellar Probes (not including New Horizons). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Hello, Earthlings! Welcome back to another segment of Universe Playpen!

Let’s chat about interstellar probes! This is a spacecraft that explores the Solar System and enters interstellar space, the region BEYOND the heliopause of the Sun and in hopes to reach and explore other star systems!

Past:

Voyager 1, Voyager 2, Pioneer 10, and Pioneer 11 paved the way to how we explore our Solar System, a fast-traveling “rover” if you will, that would help us design future missions specific for the planets and moons. As of 2019, Voyager 1 and 2 are the only probes to actually reach interstellar space! The Pioneers are at least on the trajectory course, and will get there eventually!

Present:

So far, NASA New Horizons probe, though its main purpose was to image Pluto in 2015, has now become an interstellar probe in its fly-by nature until we find a new target for it to detect and image!

Future:

In April 2016, scientists announced Breakthrough Starshot, a fleet of small centimeter-sized light-sail technology spacecrafts, capable of making the journey to Alpha Centauri at 20% the speed of light! In that case, it would take about 20-30 years to reach the star system, BUT nearly 4 years to even signal Earth back that it made the journey safely!

Another concept is having a “Voyager 2.0” upgrade to enhance the imagery and techniques used from the original Voyager probes. This would allow us to continue exploring the Kuiper Belt region and other unknowns even in our own Solar System, including captured asteroids and centaurs around the giant planets.

Voyager 2 infographic by NASA (2018).

Voyager 2 infographic by NASA (2018).

Thank you for reading and come back next week for a look at Quaoar!

Caitlin Ahrens