Sunday, January 31, 2010

Decadal Survey Update

Steve Squyres has just published the January update for the Decadal Survey.  I'd characterize the current efforts as laying the foundation for the eventual plan.  Like laying the foundation for a building, this isn't the glamorous work, but without it, the edifice won't stand.  Three sets of activity are underway:

The steering committee has been focusing on two key threats to the ability to carry out a robust program: the rapidly escalating cost of launch vehicles and the plutonium-238 shortage.  Later this winter it will look at the technology development program.

The panels (each focuses on a group of destinations, for example Mars or the outer planet satellites) are nearing completion of their assessments of the key science goals for the next decade.  Eventually, once these lists are merged, these goals will be used to prioritize a set of missions.  Their reports, if memory serves me right, are due out this spring.

In parallel with the goals assessments, 21 mission concepts are being defined and/or having cost estimates prepared.  This effort will lead to determining which concepts are technically ready and can fit within the budget.  Since the last update, one new concept has been added, a Venus Tessera Lander.  While lowland Venus lander studies already were underway, this study focuses on how to land in the rugged highlands of Venus.


Monday will see the release of the President's budget proposal for fiscal year 2011, including for NASA's planetary program.  I'll publish an analysis Monday evening or Tuesday morning.  Then later next week I'll publish an entry on missions to study the trace gases in the Martian atmosphere.

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