Orbital Sciences Corporation announced that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has selected the company’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) satellite to carry out the next mission in its Small Explorer (SMEX) series of scientific spacecraft. Orbital is a key member of the IBEX mission team, which is led by Principal Investigator Dr. David McComas of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas. The IBEX satellite is based on Orbital’s MicroStar spacecraft design, a lightweight, multi-role platform of which dozens are already in orbit performing communications and remote sensing missions.
The IBEX spacecraft is designed for launch on Orbital’s Pegasus(R) rocket, which is procured by NASA’s Kennedy Space Center under a separate contract. A solid rocket motor, provided by Alliant Techsystems, is used to boost IBEX into its highly elliptical Earth orbit, with an apogee of approximately 150,000 miles (or nearly two-thirds of the distance to the Moon). Together, the satellite and launch vehicle contracts have an estimated combined value of approximately $60 million. The IBEX mission is scheduled for launch in 2008 and will be designed for an in-orbit duration of at least two years.
The Interstellar Boundary Explorer is a remarkable mission of exploration and discovery that provides the first global images of the boundaries between our solar system and the interstellar medium that fills our galaxy. This investigation fills in the critical missing piece of understanding in the connection of our Sun and solar system to the galaxy, fulfilling requirements from recent NASA and National Research Council plans and making fascinating connections to even more distant astrophysical phenomena. IBEX also addresses a serious challenge facing human deep-space exploration by studying the region that shields out the vast majority of galactic cosmic ray radiation. As a result, IBEX is an important early step beyond the solar system and into the galactic frontier.
Orbital has supported NASA’s SMEX program for many years with reliable launch services and spacecraft. Recent SMEX missions on whom Orbital has played a key role include the Reuven Ramaty High Energy Solar Spectroscopic Imager (RHESSI), launched aboard Pegasus in February 2002, and the Galaxy Evolution Explorer (GALEX), built by Orbital and launched aboard Pegasus in April 2003. Orbital is also building and launching the next SMEX mission, the Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) satellite, scheduled for a September 2006 launch aboard Pegasus.