Wednesday, June 01, 2005

NASA Strategic Roadmap

Last week, NASA released their Strategic Roadmaps for near- to mid-term exploration of the solar system (out to 2035). The document entitled "The Solar System Exploration Strategic Roadmap" is most relevant to this blog. This roadmaps highlights three classes of missions: large, Flagship missions where the cost scale is in the billion dollars or more area, mid-priced New Frontiers missions, and relatively cheap Discovery missions. Very little is discussed for the New Frontiers and Discovery class since these are often competitive programs, however a copy of the New Horizons mission has been mentioned in numerous forums. It is possible that such a mission, on route to the Kuiper Belt, might flyby Uranus during solstice. In the Flagship-class, numerous outer solar system missions are highlighted. The first, scheduled for the 2005-2015 time frame, is the Europa Geophysical Observer, a "reimagining" of the cancelled Europa Orbiter mission that would orbit Europa for 30 days searching for a subsurface ocean and characterizing the geophysical properties of the ice shell. Hopefully such a mission would also explore interesting moons like Io during the probe's two year Jupiter-orbital phase before entering Europa orbit.

In the second decade envisioned, 2015-2025, the roadmap offers two choices: a Titan Explorer and a Venus Surface Explorer. The Titan Explorer is envisioned as an aerial platform that would have access to the surface, providing high-spatial and spectral resolution of the surface, as well as exploring Titan's atmosphere in-situ. Access to the surface is also envisioned. Numerous options are given for the third decade of the roadmap, 2025-2035. Most relevant are a Europa lander and a Neptune System mission. The Europa lander would study the immediate sub-surface in search of astrobiologically-meaningful materials. The Neptune System mission would encompase numerous instrument platforms, including a Neptune orbiter, Neptunian atmospheric probes, and a Triton lander.


Anonymous MiniTES said...

Jason: Knowing your opinions on space exploration, am I correct in guessing you have a preference for the Titan Explorer/Neptune System missions over the alternatives?

6/01/2005 06:20:00 PM  
Blogger pheogh said...

Jason, where can we find the official PDF. all the links I've found are broken?
could you relink the original document?

6/02/2005 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

hmm, I guess they have been taken down... No worries, I have the Solar System Roadmap available in the Title Link ;) ;)

minites: Well, I support many of the proposed flagship missions. The Europa Geophysical Orbiter is good for two reason. First, I would have not supported it had they called the Europa Astrobiological Orbiter. The emphasis on Geology is nice. Second, I envision it as basically a two-year Io mission with a 30-day Europa orbital phase :) I also like the Venus missions. I favor Venus over Mars and I definitely think we need to do the kind of in situ and visible wavelength geology of the surface of Venus that the Roadmap envisions. And of course I also support the Titan and Neptune/Triton missions, though I would prefer an orbital mission that focuses on Triton as well, not the kind of flyby mission that drops off some Neptune probes as has been mentioned on other fora. About the only mission I don't like is the Europa Astrobiology Lander. First, they use the word Astrobiology, a big no-no in my book. Second, what kind of Io science can it do? None as far as I can see, unless they want to use the lander as a stable base from which to observe Io (and Ganymede and Callisto).

6/02/2005 12:23:00 PM  
Blogger Bruce Moomaw said...

Ah, Jason, you're hopelessly biased against astrobiology. Never forget that you're seriously in the minority there -- and, indeed, that most of the interesting geological and atmospheric research tht will be done into Mars, Europa and Titan (and even Triton) will be done on the side by missions basically oriented toward their astrobiological potential. Believe me, if either the earlier Europa Orbiter and/or the Titan Explorer finds one of those worlds to have real biological potential, the Neptune Orbiter is definitely going to go on the back burner -- and should, for the time being.

As for Io: an "Io Observer", which would polar-orbit Jupiter and make repeated Io flybys, is one of the next set of a half-dozen second-rank New Frontiers missions recommended by the Decadal Survey -- and was still on NASA's NF list at the time of the Roadmap meetings, as I can vouch from personal experience. I wouldn't at all be surprised to see it as one of the NF missions of the 2020s.

Meanwhile, as for that Neptune flyby with entry probes recommended by little old me in "other fora" (and quite possibly doable within an NF budget): it's quite true that it can't study Triton (except for maybe making a single close flyby, which is not to be sneezed at). But if the Neptune Orbiter is rejected as the one big Flagship mission flown in the 2025-35 period, we aren't goiong to get ANY kind of look at Neptune -- or Triton -- if we don't fly it. And, like all outer-planets missions, it has the potential for a lot of bonuses -- flybys of additional KBOs; flybys of a Trojan asteroid and/or a Centaur object (which, together, are thought worthy of an NF mission of their own; maybe even a close flyby of Io (which the Pluto probe could and would have done en route, if Goldin hadn't imbecilically kept it from being launched in Dec. 2003).

Finally, while NASA -- which continues to work in mysterious ways -- has indeed yanked the first drafts of all the Roadmaps off its site (maybe because they are currently undergoing modest revision), I had already recorded all of them, and will be happy to send them to you to put in your collection (and I'll also put them all in the Planetary Sciences Webgroup file vault).

6/02/2005 06:08:00 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

Re Astrobiology: Yeah, I know, I am in the minority, but I am right and everyone else is wrong :D Seriously, my problem with astrobiology isn't that I am opposed to its study or I don't think finding life elsewhere would be a significant discovery. My beef is that it is often used to sell missions that have absolutely nothing to do with the subject (or only loosely), or are based on the false premise that "where there is water, there is life", which is based on one example. Such a philosophy is a very bad way to do science and I feel could hurt the planetary science field in the end (i.e. what happens when we DON'T find life elsewhere in the solar system). So, I'm not saying we shouldn't look, but we should be careful about how we advertise it. We should be doing the opposite of what you are suggesting, we should be primarily focused on what we CAN for sure learn about these worlds and look for life as a side product. Maybe it is an issue of semantics, but I thinking it is important one when proposing missions if we are to maintain planetary exploration as a long-term enterprise.

I swear, in the current climate, we could easily get an Io mission by simply calling it the Io Astrobiology Observer and we might just get away with it.

Re Io NF mission: 2020s eh? By that time maybe I will be prepared to be a PI on such a mission...

Re Neptune: I agree, a Neptune flyby would be better than nothing, and if a Neptune mission isn't selected as a small flagship for that time period, we should seriously consider what you are suggesting. I was just pointing out that Triton, like Titan in the Saturn system, maybe just as important a target as the planet it orbits, so we should consider that we thinking of an alternative Neptune system mission. I apologize for not remember who mentioned that alternative in "other fora". I was a bit scatter brained yesterday, and it didn't help that I could find where I put my tylenol...

6/03/2005 09:40:00 AM  

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