NASA has selected a proposal by
Southwest Research Institute(r) (SwRI) to examine the feasibility of a
mission to study the interstellar boundary, the region between our solar
system and interstellar space. The proposal is one of five candidates vying
for two mission slots in NASA’s Explorer Program of low cost, rapidly
developed scientific spacecraft.

The Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission led by SwRI would launch a
pair of energetic neutral atom (ENA) “cameras” to image the interaction
between the solar system and the low-density material between the stars, the
interstellar medium — an interaction that has never been directly observed

“Using energetic neutral atom imaging, IBEX would see the global
interactions between the solar wind and interstellar medium for the first
time,” says Principal Investigator Dr. David J. McComas, who also serves as
executive director of the SwRI Space Science and Engineering Division. “This
would give us a much deeper understanding of the Sun’s — our star’s —
interaction with the galaxy,” he says.

For IBEX, SwRI is partnering with other flight hardware developers Orbital
Science Corporation, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lockheed Martin
Advanced Technology Center, Goddard Space Flight Center, the University of
New Hampshire, and the Applied Physics Laboratory. In addition, the team
includes a number of U.S. and international scientists from universities and
other institutions, as well as the Adler Planetarium, who are leading
education and public outreach for the mission.

In addition to IBEX, NASA selected the Normal-incidence Extreme Ultraviolet
Spectrometer (NEXUS), led by the Goddard Space Flight Center; the Dark
Universe Observatory (DUO), led by Carnegie-Mellon University; the Nuclear
Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), led by the California Institute of
Technology; and the Jupiter Magnetospheric Explorer (JMEX), led by the
University of Colorado.

Each team will receive $450,000 to conduct a five-month concept study, after
which NASA will thoroughly evaluate the program content and technical,
schedule and cost feasibilities of the proposals. The agency expects to make
its mission selections in the fall of 2004, with launches scheduled for 2007
and 2008.

Should NASA select IBEX for development, total mission cost would be $132