From Dave McComas, IBEX Principal Investigator
Great news! IBEX recently passed a couple of major mission milestones! We completed our prime mission and successfully passed our "End of Prime Mission" or EOPM Review. What does this mean? We wanted to give you a bit of an insider’s look at how NASA science missions progress and are reviewed, so please read on for an explanation of these important accomplishments. However, while our prime mission is over, we have officially passed into an Extended Mission, so the IBEX mission and continuing fantastic science are far from over. Look for more amazing science from the IBEX spacecraft in the future. I also wanted to use these important milestones to take the opportunity to thank the hundreds of men and women who have worked for many years to make the IBEX mission such a great success – our success is due to everyone’s dedicated efforts. Go IBEX!
Mission Update – End of Prime Mission Review
What are NASA spacecraft mission "reviews" and why do they occur?
Periodically, a NASA spacecraft mission must participate in a series of "reviews", where the team shows progress made towards milestones and goals. These reviews happen before launch and afterwards. Since IBEX was chosen as a NASA mission in January 2005, the team has taken part in numerous reviews, including our Preliminary Design Review (December 2005), Critical Design Review (September 2006), and others. These reviews happen so that the mission team can show that it is steadily achieving its goals in a reliable and cost–effective manner and get feedback and advice from NASA and independent reviewers. If you would like to read more about IBEX’s past reviews, please peruse our archived updates, especially those from 2005 to 2008.
What is "Prime Mission" and "Prime Mission Review"?
"Prime mission" is a term NASA gives to missions that are in the main data-gathering phase after launch. The length of time for the Prime Mission varies with each spacecraft. Prime Mission for IBEX was set at two years, which was the amount of time needed for the spacecraft to gather data to produce four complete sets of heliosphere boundary maps. Analyzing the data, of course, can – and will – take longer than that. IBEX began collecting science data on February 1, 2009, so the End of Prime Mission was set at February 1, 2011.
On March 2, 2011, the people in charge of the IBEX mission met at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. to participate in End of Prime Mission Review, where the team showed what IBEX has accomplished during the first two years of the mission. A number of reports were given, including updates on how well we have achieved our mission objectives, the health of the spacecraft, an overview of the mission science, progress of the Education and Public Outreach efforts, and more.
What was the goal for the IBEX mission?
IBEX’s sole focused science objective was (and still is) to discover the global interaction between the solar wind and the interstellar medium. In other words, IBEX’s mission was to gather particles coming toward Earth from the edge of our Solar System so we could learn more about the processes occurring there. Little did we know when IBEX launched on October 19, 2008 how amazing those interactions would turn out to be!
Has IBEX achieved its goals?
Yes – and then some! The spacecraft is in great shape and can last much longer than the originally planned two-year lifetime. The IBEX-Hi and IBEX-Lo sensors continue to gather particles, coming from both from the edge of our Solar System and from Earth’s magnetosphere. The Education and Public Outreach program has reached tens of thousands of people. The mission continues to produce great results on schedule and budget. In addition, the team was proud to showcase IBEX’s many "firsts".
In just two years, IBEX:
- Was the first spacecraft to use a Pegasus rocket to leave low-Earth orbit by the innovative use of an additional IBEX-supplied solid fuel rocket motor and onboard propulsion system
- Discovered the "IBEX Ribbon" and made the first observations of energetic neutral hydrogen atoms originating from our heliosphere’s interaction with the local part of the galaxy
- Made the first direct observations of interstellar neutral hydrogen and oxygen drifting into the heliosphere from interstellar space
- Detected the first energetic neutral atoms coming from the surface of our Moon
- Imaged our Earth’s magnetospheric "plasma tail"
- Imaged the interactions between the Earth’s dayside magnetosphere and the solar wind
- Detected changes in the IBEX Ribbon
So, did IBEX pass End of Prime Mission Review?
Yes! At the end of the meeting, Dr. Jeffrey Hayes, Program Executive at NASA, gave the team the wonderful news that IBEX had passed End of Prime Mission Review and was declared to be in an "Extended Mission". Jeff also exclaimed, "Dollar for dollar, IBEX is the best mission I have ever worked with."
What is next for IBEX?
IBEX’s next NASA review will occur in spring of 2013 to hopefully extend the mission for even longer. IBEX is busy orbiting Earth and gathering energetic neutral atoms created at our heliosphere boundary, from Earth’s magnetosphere, and from outside our Solar System boundary. Look for more maps of our heliosphere to be released later in 2011 – and look for even more great science from our exciting spacecraft!