Characterization of the galactic medium surrounding the solar system is among
the most important and challenging areas of exploration identified by the recent
NASAÂ’s Sun-Earth Connections Roadmap. Three types of
measurements that are of particular
to NASA: 1) in situ exploration of the unperturbed interstellar medium; 2) in
situ exploration of the region of the interaction between the heliosphere and
galactic environment; and 3) remote observations at large heliocentric
distances. The range of the parameters to be measured (number densities,
effective temperatures, particle and photon fluxes, and plasma wave intensities)
would vary by orders of magnitude during the mission, thus posing severe
challenges to onboard instrumentation.
The challenges to the instrumentation for an interstellar mission can be roughly divided into two categories. The first category calls for improving the existing instrumental concepts by better, smaller, lighter, less power consuming, and more capable components. The second category of challenges calls for development of new instrumentation concepts. New smart instrument concepts, combining autonomy, elements of intelligence, and clever design, are required to achieve the desired measurement capabilities under the stringent constraints of a realistic interstellar mission.