Published decade review in planetary science field

The National Research Council (NRC) at the National Academies of Sciences of the USA has published a decade report in the field of planetary science. The document supports the launch of a mission to deliver Martian soil to Earth, as well as sending probes to Uranus and Enceladus.

Decadal Review

Every ten years, the National Research Council (NRC) at the National Academies of Sciences of the USA publishes decade reviews in the field of astrophysics, planetary science and Earth research. These documents define the areas of activity that should become a priority for the coming years, and rank the projects of space missions and observatories according to the degree of importance. The suggestions that occupy the highest lines, as a rule, receive the green light and are implemented in the future.

At the end of last year, the NRC published a decade review in the field of astrophysics, recommending NASA a new flagship space telescope project. And on April 19, the organization released a decade review in the field of planetary science, ranking current projects of interplanetary missions by importance. 

Delivery of Martian Soil

The reviewers gave the first place in terms of scientific significance to the Mars Sample Return mission. Within its framework, NASA and ESA plan to deliver to Earth samples of Martian soil collected by the Perseverance rover. For this, three spacecraft will be launched to the Red Planet. The delivery of soil to the Earth is planned for 2033, the total cost of the project is estimated at USD 5.3 billion.

Mars Sample Return mission (concept). Source: NASA

Missions to Uranus and Enceladus

The second and third places went to the projects of missions involving the launch of spacecraft to Uranus and Enceladus.

Uranus. Source: NASA

The Uranus Orbiter and Probe mission can be launched in 2031 on a Falcon Heavy rocket or other heavy carrier. In this case, it will reach its goal in 2044. According to the developers, the mission will have to completely change our knowledge about the ice giants. Uranus was visited only by the Voyager 2 probe in 1986, and this visit left many questions unanswered. Uranus Orbiter and Probe will have to study the seventh planet from the Sun in detail, as well as drop a probe into its atmosphere. The cost of the mission is estimated at USD 4.2 billion.

The Enceladus Orbilander mission involves launching a spacecraft to Enceladus, the moon of Saturn, under the surface of which the ocean is hidden. After entering orbit around the body, Enceladus Orbilander will carry out a series of flights through the emissions of Enceladus geysers and conduct their detailed chemical analysis. The next step will be landing on the surface of the moon. Enceladus Orbilander can be launched in the late 2030, with a landing on Enceladus in the early 2050. 

Enceladus geysers. Emissions from cracks in the icy crust of the moon are visible due to the fact that they are illuminated by the Sun from beyond the horizon (while the cracks are already in shadow). Source: NASA/JPL/SSI

The authors of the decade review also reviewed the projects of flagship missions to Europa, Mercury, Neptune and Venus, but refused to support them due to the high cost and numerous potential technical problems.

New Frontiers Program

In addition to the multibillion flagship missions, the decade review also identified a number of potential targets for less expensive missions implemented under NASA’s New Frontiers program. It includes asteroids-centaurs, Ceres, Saturn, Titan and Triton. The next selection under the program will start in the second half of 2020.

Triton. Source: NASA

In the case of Mars, the authors of the document also recommended starting work on creating another landing mission. It will have to land near one of the poles of the planet, after which it will take samples of water ice in order to detect biosignatures in them.

And finally, the authors of the document supported the launch of the NEO Surveyor telescope, whose goal will be the search for potentially dangerous near Earth asteroids. It is scheduled for 2026.

According to