The Ilmatar Mission is humanity's most ambitious space exploration project. It is the largest crewed interstellar mission, the first semi-permanent installation outside our Solar System, and has already produced scientific discoveries which have revolutionized our understanding of life and intelligence.
Facts About Ilmatar
Learn more about the Gliese 745 system and the moon Ilmatar.
Life on Ilmatar
What we know about the organisms living in Ilmatar's ocean.
Learn more about humanity's largest outpost beyond the Solar System, and the unique challenges involved in setting it up.
Meet the personnel of Ilmatar Expedition III.
Ilmatar Expedition IIIb Mission Blog
NOTICE: As a result of the ultimatum delivered by the Sholen diplomatic team on August 3, the UNICA Council has determined that an Interstellar Defense Condition is in effect. Until further notice all UNICA projects and operations are now under the authority of the United Nations Interstellar Defense Agency, and all future updates and bulletins will be found at the UNIDA site.
At 1237 GMT today the Interstellar Vehicle Marco Polo successfully activated its Space Manifold Transition System at a distance of 2 million kilometers from the Earth. The spacecraft entered gimelspace on a vector aimed at the Gliese 745b star system. Estimated travel time is 90 days.
Mission Commander Jorge Hernandez transmitted a statement before activating the SMTS: "This is the Interstellar Vehicle Marco Polo, ready to enter gimelspace. The human adventure in space continues."
Direct communication with the spacecraft is impossible while in gimelspace, and its destination star system lies 29 light-years from Earth. Any further messages must be carried by unmanned rockets.
The Interstellar Vehicle Marco Polo deployed its Space Manifold Transition System today, in preparation for transition to gimelspace on December 12. The vehicle also began powering up its capacitors for the transition event.
0710 GMT: Interstellar Drive Specialist Martha Okome and Payload Specialist Patrick Ryan enter the airlock and begin depressurizing.
0739: Airlock depressurization is complete. Ryan and Okome exit the spacecraft and put on their Personal Maneuvering Device (PMD) packs.
0803: Okome and Ryan maneuver to the cargo module along the Main Truss of Marco Polo where the primary SMTS unit is stowed.
0818: Cargo unit hatch open.
0823: Tiedowns securing the SMTS are disconnected. Ryan and Okome begin moving the unit out of the cargo module.
0844: The SMTS is free of the cargo module and floating free next to Marco Polo.
0915: Interstellar Drive Specialist Okome begins deploying the SMTS unit to full size.
0956: SMTS unit reaches its full 20-meter diameter. Using their PMD packs, Okome and Ryan begin moving it toward the front end of the spacecraft.
1034: Ryan and Okome secure the SMTS unit to the tethers at the nose of the spacecraft.
1050: Payload Specialist Ryan attaches the Flexible Power Conduit to the SMTS unit.
1105: Okome and Ryan stand by at the airlock while system tests proceed.
1120: Okome and Ryan re-attach the Flexible Power Conduit after conductance tests show a gap.
1147: Second conductance test shows "all green." The Marco Polo is now fully interstellar-capable.
1158: Ryan and Okome remove their PMD packs and enter the airlock.
Consult the UNICA Spacecraft Tracker site to follow Marco Polo as it makes the transition to gimelspace. The event should be visible to observers on Earth at about 1200 GMT on December 12. If the weather is clear, it should be visible from dark-sky locations east of Karachi, Pakistan and north of Darwin, Australia.
The Interstellar Vehicle Marco Polo performed its final acceleration today before making its scheduled gimelspace transition on the way to Ilmatar. The 10-minute main engine burn began at 1214 GMT and increased the spacecraft's velocity to 35 kilometers per second. Most of that velocity comes from the orbital motion of the Earth around the Sun and the spacecraft's encounter with the Moon.
The Interstellar Vehicle Marco Polo successfully passed within 20 kilometers of the Moon's surface during a gravity-assist maneuver. The encounter with the Moon gave Marco Polo a velocity boost of just over 2 kilometers per second, including the acceleration from the spacecraft's own main engine.
0200 GMT: The crew of Marco Polo secure themselves for acceleration. All loose items are stowed away and all the vehicle's nonessential systems are put in standby mode.
0239: Marco Polo passes over Petavius Crater on the Moon at an altitude of 72 kilometers.
0244: Marco Polo begins a four-minute main engine burn while passing over Scaliger Crater at an altitude of 19 kilometers above the Lunar surface.
0245: Main engine powers up to 110% thrust.
0248: Main engine shutdown as the Marco Polo passes over Gagarin Crater at an altitude of 34 kilometers. At this point its velocity is 2.4 kilometers per second relative to the Lunar surface below.
0252: Marco Polo passes over the center of the Moon's far side, now on a free trajectory aimed at the constellation Sagitta.
0300: Marco Polo Mission Commander Hernandez declares the maneuver complete. The crew can leave their acceleration stations and resume normal activity.
The Interstellar Vehicle Marco Polo officially departed Earth on its voyage to Ilmatar today. At 1431 the spacecraft performed a 10-minute main engine burn, putting it on course for an encounter with the Moon in three days. Marco Polo will swing around the Moon, gaining velocity from the encounter and putting it on a path aimed directly at the constellation Sagitta, where Ilmatar is located.
The Interstellar Vehicle Marco Polo undocked from the Aquarius Orbital Fuel Depot at 1134 today, and performed maneuvers to shift the inclination of its orbit in preparation for tomorrow's Trans-Lunar Insertion burn.
The crew of the Interstellar Vehicle Marco Polo spent today transferring liquid hydrogen propellant, compressed nitrogen, and reserve oxygen from the Aquarius Orbital Fuel Depot to the Marco Polo. The procedure began at 0430 GMT and was complete by 1950. The operation transferred more than 20,000 kilograms of hydrogen, 1000 kilograms of nitrogen, and 4000 kilograms of oxygen to the Polo — more than half the stored material aboard the Aquarius. A Karavan robot tanker is scheduled to replentish the Aquarius in January.
During the operation, crew members Martha Okome and Patrick Ryan conducted a media interview at 1330 GMT, during which they described their EVA to remove the stray tether blocking the Aquarius docking collar. According to Okome, the tether was apparently secured improperly during the refueling operation for the Interstellar Vehicle Meriwether Lewis in August.
Today the Interstellar Vehicle Marco Polo attempted to dock with the Aquarius Orbital Fuel Depot. When an obstacle was discovered, the docking was postponed. After an Extra-Vehicular Activity by two Polo crew resolved the problem, the two spacecraft successfully docked.
0115 GMT: Main engine burn for orbital circularization. At this point Polo is 3 kilometers from Aquarius.
0254: Main radiator panels retracted.
0434: Polo is now less than 1 kilometer from Aquarius. Terminal docking maneuvers begin.
0505: Orbital Rendezvous Pilot Shima aborts the docking maneuver when the Polo's external camera reveals a loose tether obstructing the docking collar on Aquarius.
0525: After consultation with mission control, Mission Commander Hernandez decides to pull back to a safe distance and prepare for an EVA using the two Personal Maneuvering Device (PMD) packs aboard the Polo.
0530: Main radiator panels deployed.
1148: Interstellar Drive Specialist Martha Okome and Payload Specialist Patrick Ryan enter the airlock in their EVA suits.
1318: Depressurization is complete. Okome and Ryan leave the airlock and don the PMD packs stowed outside.
1330: Okome and Ryan leave the Polo and approach the Aquarius Orbital Fuel Depot.
1346: Okome and Ryan reach Aquarius, and begin stowing the loose tether and inspecting the depot for damage.
1505: Okome and Ryan depart Aquarius.
1529: Okome and Ryan reach Marco Polo and remove their PMD packs.
1544: Okome and Ryan enter the airlock and begin pressurizing.
1618: Pressurization complete. The EVA mission is over, and the two celebrate with pouches of chocolate drink.
1730: Main radiator panels retracted.
1750: Orbital Rendezvous Pilot Shima begins approach maneuvers again.
1822: Hard dock achieved between Interstellar Vehicle Marco Polo and Orbital Fuel Depot Aquarius. Mission Commander Hernandez decides to wait until after the crew have slept to begin fuel transfer.
Interstellar Vehicle Marco Polo undocked from the International Space Station this morning at 0900 GMT. Next the Polo will rendezvous with the Aquarius Orbital Fuel Depot to top off its propellant tanks.
0845 GMT: Mission Commander Jorge Hernandez closes the hatch, sealing off the Marco Polo from the station complex.
0905: Station and Polo rotate to put the Interstellar Vehicle in the zenith position relative to the station.
0938: Rotation complete.
0950: Undocking. Polo uses mechanical undocking devices to push off from the station in order to avoid contamination with thruster exhaust.
1310: Marco Polo reaches 1 kilometer distance from the station. Orbital Rendezvous Pilot Satoshi Shima transmits a final farewell before rotating the vehicle for its oribtal transfer burn.
1323: Main radiator panel deployment complete.
1447: Marco Polo main engine fires, beginning the orbital transfer burn to rendezvous with Aquarius tomorrow.
1448: Main engine shutdown.
Interstellar Vehicle Marco Polo powered up at 0400 GMT this morning, the first step in the voyage to Ilmatar scheduled one week from today. The crew are transferring their personal belongings from the International Space Station to the Marco Polo — which will give both the Ilmatar Expedition IIIb crew and the Station staff much more "elbow room."
At 1600 GMT the joint crew will have a small party to wish the Expedition IIIb members a safe journey. Friends and family members on Earth will be able to participate via video link.
The crew of Ilmatar Expedition IIIb are taking a day off after successfully transferring all the equipment to the Marco Polo for their upcoming voyage to Ilmatar.
At 1500 GMT, Mission Commander Jorge Hernandez conducted a "video town meeting" with students from over a dozen nations. Mr. Hernandez answered questions from the students, discussed what interstellar travel is like, and took the camera on a tour of the Marco Polo.
The crew of the International Space Station and the visiting crew of Ilmatar Expedition IIIb celebrated Thanksgiving today, with a meal sent up aboard the Pegasus spaceplane five days ago.
The menu included roast turkey breast with gravy, cornbread stuffing, cranberry compote, mashed sweet potatoes, tamales, green beans, cabbage rolls, and pumpkin soup. Dessert featured a selection of pies provided by Food Network celebrity chefs (see link).
The day was only a partial holiday for the crew, however. Equipment transfer operations between the Karavan robot freighter and the Interstellar Vehicle Marco Polo continued during the morning, and after the meal the Station crew took time to conduct experiments using the Swedish DLRM module.
The crew of Ilmatar Expedition IIIb began the process of transferring equipment from the Russian Karavan unmanned freighter to the Marco Polo. In addition to scientific experiments and personal gear, the expedition will transport food and other consumables for the crew of Hitode Station on Ilmatar.
Liftoff! The spaceplane Pegasus, carrying 8 members of the Ilmatar Expedition IIIb crew, launched from Mojave Spaceport this morning bound for the International Space Station. They will remain aboard the station for two weeks, preparing the Interstellar Vehicle Marco Polo for the voyage to Ilmatar.
0712 hours PST: The carrier aircraft Thunderbird, with Pegasus loaded onto its dorsal support structure, takes off from Mojave Spaceport's main runway. Thunderbird's pilot is Steven R. Nelson, copilot Anthony Austin. Pegasus pilot is J.D. Hanemann, assisted by copilot Warren Huizenga.
0943 hours: Thunderbird reaches 24,000 meters altitude.
0947 hours: Pegasus switches to onboard power.
0954 hours: Thunderbird begins accelerating to maximum airspeed.
1009 hours: The umbilical connecting Pegasus with Thunderbird retracts.
1021 hours: Thunderbird reaches maximum airspeed of Mach 0.97.
1026: Pegasus detaches from Thunderbird. Thunderbird immediately begins a dive and turn maneuver. Pegasus mission clock begins at 00:00:00.
00:00:18: Pegasus main engine fires.
00:00:50: Pegasus main engine reaches 110% thrust.
00:00:58: Pegasus goes transonic at altitude 25,600 meters.
00:01:05: Thunderbird completes its turn, putting it on a course due north at 23,000 meters altitude.
00:01:51: Pegasus reaches Mach 2 at altitude 27,200 meters.
00:02:35: Pegasus reaches Mach 3 at altitude 29,300 meters.
00:03:13: Pegasus reaches Mach 4 at 32,500 meters.
00:03:47: Pegasus reaches Mach 5 at 36,300 meters.
00:04:18: Pegasus reaches Mach 6 at 40,800 meters.
00:04:45: Pegasus reaches Mach 7 at 46,100 meters.
00:04:50: Pegasus main engine throttleback to 95% thrust.
00:06:01: Switch from aerodynamic control to Thruster Attitude Control System (TACS).
00:09:10: Pegasus reaches 100 kilometers altitude, velocity 4.46 kilometers per second.
00:13:32: Pegasus reaches 200 kilometers altitude, velocity 7.06 kilometers per second.
00:17:51: Pegasus reaches 300 kilometers altitude, velocity 9.68 kilometers per second.
00:20:26: Pegasus main engine shutdown at 410 kilometers altitude.
03:06:55: Pegasus approaches to within 1 kilometer of the International Space Station and begins terminal docking maneuvers.
04:19:14: Pegasus hard docks with the International Space Station and begins power-down at 2245 GMT.
2253 hours GMT: Pressure equalized. Pegasus copilot Warren Huizenga opens the hatch and the crew can begin transferring to the station.
The United Nations Interstellar Cooperation Agency acts as a coordinating body for human activities beyond our Solar System. It also works to promote peaceful contact and interaction with alien civilizations.
UNICA is an autonomous agency of the United Nations, and is directed by a 17-member council representing 14 interstellar-capable nations, plus 2 rotating members drawn from the rest of the UN, and the Secretary-General of the United Nations as chairman. By international agreement, UNICA has controlling authority over all missions involving interactions with intelligent alien species.
For more information, see the UNICA home page.
Current UNICA Crewed Missions
- Akna Station
- Gliese 282 Bb Observation Mission
- Proxima Centauri Observatory
- Seishaef Mission
- Shalina Contact Project
- Sirius Astrophysical Observatory
UNICA Interstellar Vehicles
- IV Ibn-Battuta
- IV James Cook
- IV Jules Dumont D'Urville
- IV Marco Polo
- IV Meriwether Lewis
- IV Tanaka Shosuke
- IV Vitus Bering