Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Coming Deluge

Last winter and spring, it was tough to keep up with the news on future planetary planning. In addition to deciding on the destination for the next Flagship mission, there was the saga of the Mars Science Laboratories cost overruns. The last few months have been comparatively quiet. That's about to change.

This current planetary Decadal Survey, as have past ones, is soliciting widespread input from the scientific community on scientific priorities and mission concepts. One key method for input will be white papers written by individual or groups of scientists. This is serious business. Congress and NASA listen to the priorities set by the Decadal Surveys (most of the time, anyway -- MSL as it grew from a modest rover is the exception). Mission proposals that don't address Decadal priorities or that miss fulfilling Decadal goals for specific missions have trouble being selected. The community therefore is taking the process very seriously.

The Decadal Survey committee has set stringent rules for the preparation of white papers -- 12 point font, seven pages, 50MB file size. It appears that they are expecting a deluge, with requests the preparers submit the titles of their white papers ahead of time. Among the topics listed to date are:

  • Entry Probe Missions to the Giant Planets
  • The Value of Landed Meteorological Investigations on Mars: The Next Advance for Climate Science
  • Ganymede science questions and future exploration
  • The Case For Ceres

Individual disciplines are organizing their white paper efforts. The Mars community, for example, has its own list of white papers including:

  • State of Knowledge of Mars Science and Next Decade Objectives: Executive summary of current state of knowledge and extension to top science objectives realistically achievable during next 10 years
  • Strategic Technology Development for Future Mars Missions
  • Report from the Mars Geophysical Network Science Analysis Group (MGN-SAG)
  • The Value of Landed Meteorological Investigations on Mars: The Next Advance for Climate Science

The last paper is already posted in draft form (http://mepag.jpl.nasa.gov/decadal/SfcMet_17July2009_3.pdf). It probably provides a good example of what to expect. First, the report lays out the case for why the scientific questions are important, why the particular approach is necessary to answer the questions, and then what actions are needed to enable the mission(s) (in this case, include meteorological instruments on all landers and fund technology development for networks of small landers to collect data from dozens of locations on Mars).

I will try to keep on top of the white papers, but expect that the deluge will prove too much to read and summarize. So what you will see here will likely be summaries of what I believe are the key white papers (or at least those that tickle my interest most). If understanding the rational behind planetary exploration interests you and reading about possible missions in interesting, then I suggest that you bookmark the sites listed in this blog entry and make your own selection of which white papers to read.


Rules for the white papers http://www7.nationalacademies.org/ssb/SSEdecadal_whitepapers.html
Proposed white papers http://www.lpi.usra.edu/decadal/
Mars related white papers http://mepag.jpl.nasa.gov/decadal/index.html
Published white papers http://www8.nationalacademies.org/ssbsurvey/publicview.aspx

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