Symposium for the COSPAR Scientific Assembly
in collaboration with the International Astronautical Congress (IAC)
at the World Space Congress -- Houston, 2002

to be held at George R. Brown Convention Center in the heart of downtown Houston, Texas

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COSPAR Commission D; IAF; IAU Commission 49

Event Title: To the Edge of the Solar System and Beyond
Event Number: D1.2

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Main Scientific Organizer COSPAR:

Eberhard Möbius

Space Science Center and Department of Physics, University of New Hampshire
Morse Hall, 39 College Road, Durham, NH 03824, USA
Phone: 1-603-862-3097, Fax: 1-603-862-0311

Scientific Organizing Committee:

Convener IAC:

Giovanni Vulpetti
Telespazio SpA, Via Tiburtina 965, 00156 Rome, Italy

Deputy Convener COSPAR:

Horst Fichtner
Lehrstuhl für Theoretische Physik IV, Ruhr-Universität, Bochum, Germany

Deputy Convener IAC:

Anders Hansson
E.I.Q.C., 20 Leyborne Avenue, London W13 9RB, UK

Deputy Convener IAU:

Frank Verheest
Sterrenkundig Observatorium, Universiteit Gent, Krijgslaan 281, B-9000 Gent, Belgium

Scientific Editors:



  • G. Genta
    Politecnico di Torino, Corso Duca degli Abruzzi 24, 10129 Torino, Italy



  • Priscilla Frisch
    Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60631,USA
  • Steven Spangler
    Department of Physics, University of Iowa, Iowa City, USA


  • Bernd Heber
    Universitaet Osnabrueck, Fachbereich Physik, Barbarastr. 7, 49069 Osnabrueck, Germany
  • Vladislav Izmodenov
    Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia
  • Ingrid Mann
    Max-Planck-Institut für Aeronomie, Katlenburg-Lindau, Germany
  • Marius Potgieter
    School of Physics, Potchefstroom University for CHE, Potchefstroom, South Africa


  • Les Johnson
    Advanced Space Transportation Program ASTP, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL 35812 – USA
  • Gregory Matloff
    417 Greene Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11216 – USA

Event Description  (organized jointly with IAF)

There is explosive growth in interest and observations concerning the structure and boundaries of the heliosphere, our galactic neighborhood, and mutual interactions: The first astrospheres have been identified. Voyager I is approaching the termination shock. Ulysses has surveyed the inner heliosphere in 3-D over one solar cycle. ACE, EUVE, SAMPEX, SOHO and WIND sample inflowing interstellar material galactic and anomalous cosmic rays, neutrals, pick-up ions and dust and the outflowing solar wind with increasing precision. A first mission to the heliospheric boundary and into the LIC is being studied.

We invite observational and theoretical contributions, including low energy charged and neutral particle, cosmic ray, electromagnetic field and dust observations in the heliosphere as well as investigations of the local galactic environment and neighbouring astrospheres. Related mission concepts and observation technologies are sought, with evolutionary, advanced, and innovative ideas that enable new observations and/or dramatically decrease flight time, including propulsion, telecommunication, navigation, and sensor technology.

Technological Challenges of Interstellar Flight

After five decades of investigation at many different levels, The Interstellar Flight (TIF) still appears very far from being realized. Although vigorous basic research is being pursued in various places on speculative and advanced concepts at the frontier of physics, the current state of physics and technology tells us that a true interstellar mission is highly improbable in the next few decades (and even beyond). In addition to basic technical difficulties, other obstacles relate to human culture, economy and the necessary international cooperation. Overcoming these problems is simply mandatory for carrying out TIF. Nevertheless, if the human race obeys a suggested universal principle that interstellar expansion is permitted for conscious life, in the universe, well beyond the origin planet or star system, then TIF may only be a matter of time. For us on the planet Earth, mission concepts of TIF are quite bound to our present knowledge of solar system, galaxy and universe. It is time to begin interstellar precursor missions. They could, in a unique way, enhance many scientific disciplines related to Space. In particular, a more comprehensive knowledge of the heliosphere, the nearby interstellar medium/environment, as well as making use of the solar gravitational lens, and many more, are not only solicited independently by different scientific communities, but are necessary steps in the scientific advancement.

The distance range for such pilot missions from the Sun is roughly 200 -800 AU. In principle, one would be able to design a fleet of space probes for these purposes using conventional spaceflight technology. However, flight time would be measured in many human job times (1 HJT = 35-40 years). This generates a cascade of significant problems, from onboard system maintenance to political approval, from data collection to the human analyzers. Therefore, reducing flight time dramatically is mandatory. A good criterion should be: design time + construction time +flight & payload mission time < 1 HJT. This puts strong constraints on the available (within a couple of decades) propulsion systems. Multiple planetary gravity-assist with solar fly-by strategies with no primary engines are too time consuming and strongly limited in launch window. Solar fly-by with conventional chemical engines entails critical maneuvers too close to the Sun and is very error-sensitive. Thus, only nuclear-electric propulsion and solar sailing appear to be promising before, say, 2020, even though recent results in beam-driven propulsion may broaden the spectrum of candidate propulsion systems. Other critical issues are the spacecraft mass and volume that impact the launcher selection. With the astrodynamical development of a strongly non-linear dynamics of all-metal sail spacecraft flying-by the Sun, it appears to be possible to build up a sufficiently light and small (packed) sailcraft satisfying the flight time criterion. A NASA mission concept, known as Interstellar Probe (ISP), is an excellent example of how the utilization of current physics and near-term technology would allow a breakthrough in the knowledge of several disciplines and serve as a bridge towards the realization of very fast, frequent and low-cost exploration. Of special importance to reach this goal are (1) advanced Scientific Payloads, (2) Robotics, (3) Sensor advancement, (4) progress in Navigation & Guidance, (5) very deep space communication, as well as (A) Optimized Multi-Target Mission and (B) Advanced Propulsion concepts.

This joint COSPAR/IAF symposium is focusing on both the scientific objectives for interstellar exploration and realistic ways to accomplish them. Papers on all areas mentioned above are particularly encouraged, especially with a strong relation to the rationale of the scientific objectives. Of course, in the spirit of previous IAF/IAA symposia devoted to the interstellar-space exploration, highly advanced and innovative proposals, which may have near/medium-term application on precursor missions well beyond the heliosphere, are welcome as well.

Giovanni Vulpetti, December 2001

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