Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Wealth of Future Mission Descriptions and Concepts

The Lunar and Planetary Science conference is one of the big annual conferences in this field. While the conference focuses on results from mission in progress (or past missions), there are always a few stray future mission descriptions or concepts sprinkled in. This year's conference, however, has a wealth of presentations on both. Another nice thing about this conference is that most talks also have substantial (generally two full page) abstracts that provide a lot of detail.

If you are interested in the science returned by missions to other solar system bodies, I urge you to go look through the abstracts at

The rest of this blog entry provides links to future mission descriptions and concepts.


This is one of the Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator (ASRG) mission concepts being funded by NASA. This mission would land in one of the permanently shadowed craters on the moon to study the volitiles that may be found there. The abstract is long on mission background but says almost nothing about how the mission would be implemented.

LADEE (Lunar dust)
This is a mission in development that would study the pristine lunar atmosphere and dust environment prior to human return to the moon that would change both.

I believe that this also is an approved NASA mission that would land 4 surface stations on the moon with additional stations for a total of 8-10 provided by other nations. This mission would focus on studies of the lunar interior through seismic, heatflow, electrical conductivity, and rotational dynamics studies.

This is a short summary of a mission concept to study many of the same areas as the International Lunar Network but would use high impact penetrators (which would limit payload mass) instead of soft landers.


Venus balloons 3-09
This is a short (half page) summary of Baines' Venus VALOR Discovery mission proposal

Venus Flagship
A nice (two page) summary of the forthcoming Venus Flagship mission consisting of an orbiter, two balloons, and two landers for a mid-2020's launch. The orbiter would provide data relay from the balloons and landers before settling into a low orbit for high resolution (I've heard elsewhere 5-10 m) radar imaging of a few percent of the surface (much like HiRISE images a small percentage of Mars' surface) and atmospheric studies. The landers would be designed to last for several hours to allow indepth analysis of soil samples.


Mars Science Laboratory

Several papers discussing MSL's instruments are here

This would be an ambitious ESA mission to Mars to establish a network of 3-4 landers and an orbiter. The landers would study Mars' interior through seismometry and rotational dynamics studies from radio tracking, atmospheric physics, and studies of the chemistry of rocks and soils. The orbiter would provide data relay and global studies of the atmosphere.

Cerebus (Mars Network)
This is a mission that apparently will be proposed for the next NASA New Frontiers selection. Like Mars-Next, this is a network mission with many of the same goals, but without its own orbiter. The mission summary is longer than that for Mars-Next.

Asteroids and Comets

Deep Interior
This Discovery mission concept would rendezvous with Wild 2 (which Stardust flew past) and use ground penetrating radar to image the interior structure of a comet at 10 m resolution as well as high resolution imaging of the surface and mapping of the surface topography with a laser altimeter.

This small body exhibits characteristics of both an asteroid and a comet. This paper looks at several mission concepts including a Discovery class orbiter/lander and a New Frontiers class sample return mission.

Describes a small lander that could be carried by a craft that orbits or rendezvous with one of these small bodies.

ASIMA (Asteroid Impact Analyzer)
This is not a mission in its own right but an instrument that would be added to a low Earth orbit communications satellite. The instrument would study the meteor trails of dust entering the Earth's atmosphere to learn the composition and size of the parent material. Since source of many of the meteors can be traced back to specific comets, this allows a low cost way of studying their composition.

Shotput Sample Return
This mission would have a spacecraft flyby a mainbelt, a Trojan, and a Centaur asteroid. At each body, an impactor would strike the target and the spacecraft would fly through the dust plume to sample the surface material. From the mainbelt asteroid, samples of the plume would be collected and returned to Earth during an Earth flyby.

Jupiter and Saturn

Argus (Io)
JPL runs a summer school to teach the principles of planetary mission design. Last year's project was to define a New Frontiers mission concept for repeated flybys of Io. This mission would be more capable than the Io Volcano Observer. Forty flybys would be done at 10.6 increments during a two year Io observing campaign. The design assumes design heritage would be available from a Europa Jupiter Flagship mission. Jason Perry has a nice summary of this mission at his blog.

Io Volcano Observer
This is a Discovery mission concept that would conduct 6-10 flybys of Io. This mission has been extensively reviewed by me and Jason Perry.

Europa Jupiter System Mission
Titan Saturn System Mission
Just in case you haven't seen one of the many articles or presentations on these two missions in competition for selection as the next Flagship mission.