Enlarge /. Maat Mons, one of the Venus volcanoes, in a model created using radar data from the Magellan mission.
NASA scientists didn't have to make an easy decision this winter, as they considered more than a dozen fascinating concepts for Discovery-class missions to explore the solar system.
But decide that they did, and choose four missions for additional study and refinement on Thursday. NASA said the proposals were selected based on their potential scientific value and the viability of development plans as part of a competitive peer review process.
Each of the mission teams will now receive $ 3 million from NASA to complete their proposals over a nine-month period. After that, NASA will likely choose two missions to develop and launch later in the 2020s. Discovery missions are capped at $ 450 million.
The space agency selected the following four mission concepts for further studies and provided the following summaries of their capabilities.
The mission tries to analyze Venus' atmosphere to understand how it formed and evolved before determining whether Venus ever had an ocean. The spaceship will plunge through the inhospitable atmosphere of Venus to measure its composition down to the surface. The instruments are encapsulated in a specially built descent ball to protect them from the intense environment of Venus. The "+" in DAVINCI + refers to the imaging component of the mission, which includes cameras on the descent ball and an orbiter that are designed to map the surface rock type. James Garvin from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is the main investigator. Goddard would do the project management.
Io volcano watcher
This mission would explore Jupiter's moon Io to learn how tidal forces shape planetary bodies. Io is warmed by the constant pressure of Jupiter's gravity and is the most volcanically active body in the solar system. Little is known about the specific properties of Io, e.g. B. whether there is a magma ocean inside. With the help of close-in flybys, IVO would evaluate how magma is generated and broken out on Io. The results of the mission could revolutionize our understanding of the formation and evolution of rocky bodies and icy oceans in our solar system and extrasolar planets throughout the universe.
Alfred McEwen from the University of Arizona at Tucson is the main investigator. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland would handle project management.
Topography and volcanoes on Io as depicted by the Galileo spaceship.
NASA / JPL / University of Arizona
Trident would explore Triton, a unique and highly active icy moon from Neptune, to understand paths to habitable worlds at enormous distances from the sun. NASA's Voyager 2 mission has shown that Triton has an active surface renewal that creates the second youngest surface in the solar system, with the potential to break out feathers and an atmosphere. Coupled with an ionosphere that can produce organic snow and the potential for an inner ocean, Triton is an exciting exploration target to understand how habitable worlds can develop in our solar system and others. With a single flyby, Trident would map Triton, characterize active processes and determine whether the predicted subterranean ocean exists. Louise Prockter from the Lunar and Planetary Institute / Universities Space Research Association in Houston is the main researcher. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California would handle project management.Enlarge /. Triton's global color mosaic, recorded in 1989 by Voyager 2 while flying past the Neptune system.
NASA / JPL / USGS
This mission tries to map the surface of Venus to determine the geological history of the planet and to understand why Venus developed so differently from Earth. VERITAS orbits Venus with a synthetic aperture radar and records surface heights over almost the entire planet to create three-dimensional reconstructions of the topography and to confirm whether processes such as plate tectonics and volcanism are still active on Venus. VERITAS would also map infrared emissions from the surface to map the geology of Venus, which is largely unknown. Suzanne Smrekar from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California is the main investigator. JPL would do the project management.
Remarkably, two of the four missions are aimed at Venus. NASA's last mission to Venus was Messenger, an orbiter launched in 1989. If selected, the DAVINCI + mission would be the first NASA-led spacecraft to enter the planet's atmosphere since 1978. Both Venus missions were finalists during the last Discovery Class call – announced in January 2017 – are missing in the final cut. The two missions Lucy and Psyche selected at the time were dedicated to the research of asteroids.
Maybe Venusian enthusiasts are doing better this time.