Image and text: https://www.wired.com/story/nasa-is-getting-serious-about-an-interstellar-mission/
Thanks to NASA and some heavy research going on at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, we are getting closer and closer to launching a mission to interstellar space, meaning going outside our solar system and exploring deeper into the galaxy. The challenge surrounding the current research is to find a balance between the shielding necessary to get close and around the sun and keeping the aircraft light so it can travel at speeds of 100,000 miles an hour.
“To put this in perspective, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, the only spacecraft to make it to interstellar space, are currently around 13 billion miles away from Earth. It took those spacecraft nearly four decades to cover this distance, but NASA’s new interstellar probe could make it there in less than 15 years.”
An interstellar probe will answer a lot of questions scientists have regarding the shape of the heliosphere, which is the habitable little bubble that surround our solar system, and will be able to provide data on the transition from solar system to interstellar space. A dedicated mission outside the solar system would develop our understanding on the formation of our galaxy and our place in it, but there are actually no guarantees this mission will ever launch despite strong interest from scientists around the world. By the end of 2021, Johns Hopkins researches will submit their finished project to a national survey on heliophysics, which determines sun-related mission priorities for the next 10 years. A similar mission, set to have launched in the early 2000s, was suspended on the basis that the technology necessary was not ready, but scientists are now confident that they have a vision they can execute, and aim to have the technology created by 2030. Today, there is also the differential that private space companies are also investing in building rockets, which speeds up the process in tech development since scientists have more options on who will take their ideas into space. This might very well turn into a competition between NASA and other private space entities around the world.