Study Programs

Science and Enabling Technologies to Explore the Interstellar Medium

Team Leads
Ed Stone (Caltech)
Leon Alkalai (JPL)
Louis Friedman (Co-Founder and Executive Director Emeritus, The Planetary Society)

Opening Workshop: September 8-11, 2014
Closing Workshop: January 13-15, 2015

Recent discoveries reported in 2012 and 2013 by Voyager-1 and Kepler have brought into focus two end-points of what is now commonly referred to as the Interstellar Medium (ISM). Whereas Voyager-1 is beginning to explore the ISM in-situ, the Kepler space-based telescope and other Earth-based telescopes have detected a plethora of potentially Earth-like planetary systems around other stars or "exoplanets". The results of these two missions frame the context for further intellectual curiosity, scientific questions, and exploration goals that will define objectives for innovative and far-reaching missions heading out of our solar system and someday reaching for the stars.

(source: Interstellar Probe Exploring the Interstellar Medium and the Boundaries of the Heliosphere Report (2002), NASA/JPL.)

The goals of the workshop are to:

  1. articulate key scientific questions
  2. identify near-term science exploration goals
  3. derive mission objectives and preliminary design concepts that can be realized in the next two decades
  4. derive flight system and science measurement requirement
  5. assess key mission, system, and operations technology drivers
  6. develop a technology maturation plan that will be proposed to KISS and JPL for follow-on funding.

A Horseshoe Einstein Ring. (source: Hubble, NASA)

The technical challenge and the focus of the workshop is to assess mission implementation techniques that will enable affordable robotic probes to reach the ISM within 10 years with velocities up to 10 times faster than Voyager, and be designed to last 50 years or longer. By comparison, Voyager-1 is now traveling at a speed of 17 km/sec, and has taken 35 years to reach the ISM. Meeting this challenge would constitute a revolutionary capability that would enable multiple scientific probes to launch and return initial scientific results of and from the ISM within a decade, and continue for several decades.

Heliosphere and Interstellar Medium. (source: Interstellar Probe Exploring the Interstellar Medium and the Boundaries of the Heliosphere Report (2002), NASA/JPL.)

For questions contact: Ed Stone, Leon Alkalai, Louis Friedman, or
Michele Judd


Edward Stone

Study Co-Lead Ed Stone, from Caltech.

Leon Alkalai

Study Co-Lead Leon Alkalai, from JPL.

Louis Friedman

Study Co-Lead Louis Friedman, from The Planetary Society.