Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Russia's Lunar and Planetary Plans

In the several years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve seldom written about the Russian planetary program as a whole.  I’ve written about individual missions but I’ve not put all the pieces together since 2009.

A request from a reader and the quiet announcement last month that NASA and its Russian counterpart Roscosmos are investigating options for joint Venus missions piqued my interest. 

Russia's Roscosmos and the United State's NASA space agencies are investigating a possible joint Venus mission.  Credit: Roscosmos

Two problems have stopped me from updating the big picture of Russian plans.  First, there seems to be relatively little information in English on the overall program and for specific missions.  Second, I have found it hard to distinguish what is a concept under consideration, what is a mission on the roadmap but not yet funded, and what is a mission in development with secure funding.  The problem may well be that I don’t read and write Russian – all this information may be available if internet searches are done in Russian instead of English.  (If any of my readers know of good web sites, please pass them along.  Even if they are in Russian, Google translate does a pretty good job.)

For much of my information on the Russian space program, I have depended on writer and space historian Anatoly Zak and his RussianSpaceWeb.com.

Fate has not been kind to the Russian planetary program since the breakup of the Soviet Union.  Its Mars-96 mission was lost during a launch failure.  Then in 2011, the Phobos-Grunt mission was lost after it failed to respond to commands following launch.

Since then, the Russian program is following a two-pronged approach to rebuild its planetary program.  For this decade, it is planning a series of solo lunar missions to build up its own design, testing, and operations capabilities.  Simultaneously, it has built a partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA) to explore Mars.  The earliest explorations of a potential partnership with NASA for Venus missions have just started.

After reading Zak’s web site, ESA’s website, and reading a number of news accounts, what follows is the best picture I’ve been able to put together of Russia’s planetary plans. 

Near term missions

    ExoMars orbiter - 2016
    ExoMars rover and science station - 2018

Concepts for the 2020s

From what I can tell, these missions are concepts and not approved or funded missions.  Launch dates therefore are likely to be notional for planning purposes rather than commitments.

Ganymede lander - late 2020s                                                           

This is an ambitious list, especially for the early 2020s.  Zak reports that the numbers of engineers and scientists to build, test, and operate these missions are small.  Russia is enhancing the impact its resources have through partnerships with other space agencies.  Still, several of the concepts seem likely to be dropped unless Russia invests substantially more resources to its program. 

Cooperative Missions with ESA

Russia and ESA have signed agreements that make Russia a substantial partner in both of ESA’s Mars missions this decade.  Russia will make crucial contributions to both ExoMars missions:

ExoMars orbiter and demonstration lander 2016
Russia to provide launch
Russian-supplied instruments for the orbiter:
Atmospheric Chemistry Suite (3 infrared spectrometers)
Fine Resolution Epithermal Neutron Detector (high resolution mapping of near-surface water ice)

ExoMars rover & science station 2018
Russia to provide launch
Russia to provide entry and landing system with ESA contributions
Russian-supplied instruments for the rover:
Infrared Spectrometer for ExoMars
Adron (detect subsurface water and hydrated minerals)
[previously, a 3rd instrument, a laser spectrometer was listed as a Russian instrument but is not currently listed on ESA’s ExoMars webpage]

Russia will need to develop substantial new capabilities to land the large 2018 ExoMars rover.  It previously has not landed a large planetary probe on any world except on the very different Venus (and then as part of the Soviet Union series of landers that ended in 1986).  ESA plans to share the technology it develops from its planned 2016 demonstration lander with Russia. 

Russia has previously discussed using the 2018 ExoMars landing stage as a long-lived weather and geophysical station.  I have not seen any discussion of this recently.  If this does happen and the station has a seismometer, joint seismological studies with NASA’s InSight mission could be done to improve upon the science either instrument could do on its own.

In addition to Mars missions, managers for the European and Russian space agencies have stated that they are discussing Russian participation in ESA’s JUICE Jovian system-Ganymede orbiter mission.  Russia could contribute the launch vehicle and in return be provided payload space for instruments on the JUICE orbiter or for a small Ganymede lander.

The Moon

Russia's planned lunar missions. Credit ESA

Russia has been planning a series of missions to the moon for about the last 15 to 20 years.  More recently, the planning included a partnership with India that was dropped following the Phobos-Grunt mission’s failure.  Since 2012, a series of three Russian-ledonly missions have been planned.  An ESA website announcing Russia’s interest in European scientist participation in the missions provides the best summary I’ve found of the current plans:

·       “Luna-25 is a small technology [demonstration] lander with a limited payload, which will target a high latitude [near polar] landing side in the southern hemisphere on the near side. 

·      “Luna-26 will be a polar orbiting spacecraft which will operate from one year at 100 – 150 km and then for 2 years at 500 – 700km altitude, providing communications relay capabilities for missions which follow.

·      “Luna-27 is a larger lander with an enhanced payload capability. The mission will have near polar landing site in the southern hemisphere, targeting frozen volatiles in the sub surface.”

Since 2012 the launch dates for these missions have slipped to the dates shown above.  Zak’s website states that resources to develop these missions may be scarce: “Even these postponed launch dates remain far from being guaranteed, because lunar missions alternate in the flight manifest with two joint Russian-European launches to Mars, which themselves face a considerable time pressure but have a much better chance of getting the priority in development due to their international nature. (Many aspects of the Russian planetary exploration program are developed and supported by the same institutions with a relatively small team of scientists and engineers, limiting parallel work on multiple projects.).”  Zak concludes, “Luna-Glob is currently scheduled to lift off in 2015 or 2016, but could be easily postponed by months or even years to complete its development.”


Venus missions were a major success for the Soviet Union’s planetary program.  For the last decade, Russia has been investigating options for a return to Venus known as Venera-D.   All versions of the plans I’ve seen have included a short-lived (few hours) lander and an orbiter.  Various versions have also included balloons for atmospheric studies.  Currently, a possible date of 2024 is shown for a mission with a single large, short-lived lander, a small lander that would survive a day, and two orbiters.

Towards the end of December 2013, NASA quietly announced that it was seeking scientists to study requirements for a possible joint US and Russian Venus missions “undertaking complementary and coordinated missions to Venus using the 2021-2023 launch opportunities.”  The potential scope of the missions was left vague.  The US Venus mission concept referred to in the announcement was a particularly ambitious plan that included a large, capable orbiter, two balloons, and two large, short-lived landers.  Presumably, the US contribution under discussion would be much less ambitious, perhaps a smaller orbiter, a balloon, or a lander.  (It’s not clear, however, where NASA would find the funding in its planetary program for its contribution.)

Numerous studies have looked at the types of missions needed to advance Venus exploration, and they have concluded that concurrent and synergistic orbiter, balloon, and lander missions would be ideal.  By cooperating, Russia and NASA could potentially substantially enhance the scientific return beyond what either could accomplish alone. 

Other Concept for Future Missions

The Boomerang Phobos mission would be a second try (after the failed Phobos-Grunt mission) to return a sample from the Martian moon.

The Ganymede lander study is for an ambitious orbiter and soft lander mission that would be similar to a concept previously studied for a Europa orbiter and lander (see summary here).  NASA studied a similarly capable Europa lander and concluded that it would be a highly complex mission.  

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Correction to NASA Budget Analysis

In my post on NASA's final 2014 budget, I could not find amounts for all of the Planetary Science research budget and worried that there might be a cut in this account.  Two readers pointed out an error in my analysis.  The President's full request for $130M for Research and Analysis will be funded.

You can read the full, corrected post at, NASA Budget: Will there be money for the mortgage payments?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

NASA Budget: Will there be money for the mortgage payments?

Correction: Casey Drier at the Planetary Society and a reader point out that my previous version of this post was in error regarding the Planetary Science Research and Analysis budget.  All of the President's requested $130M will be funded in this new final budget.  My confusion came from the final budget document not listing the all spending categories within the Planetary Science Research budget (of which the Research and Analysis budget is one part).  There will also be no sequestration this year to reduce the funding approved by Congress.  [I always welcome corrections from readers; if you see an error, please let me know.]

The two political parties in Congress have agreed on a budget for the US federal government for Fiscal Year 2014.  While the President’s request for NASA’s Planetary Science budget was $1.218B, Congress has settled on $1.345B, an increase of $127.5M.  However, there appears to be some significant downsides to the budget (at least from the initial information).

The winners in the final budget will be the accounts to fund future missions as shown by the chart below.  The key budget increases are to pay for the 2020 Mars rover (~$55M increase), accelerate the start of the next Discovery mission (NASA's smallest category of planetary missions), and $80M for continued detailed studies of a Europa mission.

Changes in budgets that pay for future planetary mission development from Fiscal Year 2013, the President's FY14 budget request, and the final Congressional budget.

What’s not clear is where the funds to develop the next Discovery mission ($425M to $500M) and Europa mission will come from.  NASA could trade its planned next New Frontiers mission (~$1B) for the Discovery mission.  Beyond that, NASA’s expected planetary budgets are already committed to pay for approved missions: the Mars InSight geophysical station (Discovery program mission), the asteroid OSIRIS-Rex sample return (New Frontiers program mission), and the Mars 2020 rover.  Developing a Europa mission would require several additional hundreds of millions of dollars a year.  If increasing the planetary budget in future years is Congress’ intent, then this would be welcome news.   Otherwise, Congress is making down payments for missions that NASA would not have the budget to pay for (those mortgage payments referred to in the title of this post).

Expected future budgets (dashed lines) would not support both the development a Discovery program (~$425-500M) and a New Frontiers program (~$1B) mission later in this decade or a Europa mission.  Most funds later in this decade will shift to developing the Mars 2020 rover mission.

Editorial thoughtsThe best way to reduce risk for a future planetary mission is to spend substantial funds up front to define the mission, do preliminary design, and develop critical technologies.  Together with funds from last year’s budget, the Europa Clipper mission will have had ~$160M in definition money before the mission is approved for development.  This should substantially reduce the risk to the mission exceeding its expected development costs of ~$2B.  However, $80M a year isn’t enough to carry the mission through development and to launch.  Several hundred million more dollars would need to be added to the budget to do this.

Budget Text:  I’ve copied key relevant passages from the budget document below.

For FY13, NASA attempted to shift (technically called ‘reprogramming and transferring’) significant funds from the Planetary Science budget approved by Congress to other accounts.  The following text seems to be a strong warning not to try that again: “Reprogramming and transfer authorities exist so that NASA can respond to unexpected, exigent circumstances that may arise during the fiscal year, not so that NASA can pursue its internal priorities at the expense of congressional direction. If NASA persists in abusing its reprogramming and transfer authorities, those authorities will be eliminated in future appropriations acts.”

Planetary Science  [budget total]…………..$1,345,000,000

“Planetary Science.-In lieu of any amounts included for specific Planetary Science activities in the House and Senate reports, the agreement provides $130,000,000 for Research and Analysis; up to $40,500,000 for Near Earth Object Observation; $285,000,000 for Discovery; $258,000,000 for New Frontiers, including $218,700,000 for OSIRIS-REx; $288,000,000 for Mars Exploration, including $65,000,000 for the development of the Mars 2020 Rover; $159,000,000 for Outer Planets, including $80,000,000 for a Jupiter Europa mission as described in the House report; and $146,000,000 for Technology, including up to the requested level for Plutonium-238 production.

“NASA shall use the funds provided for the Discovery program to support extended operations for the Messenger program and to increase the tempo by which Announcements of Opportunity (AOs) are released and missions are selected from those AOs. NASA is encouraged to initiate a new Discovery AO no later than May I, 2014 with final phase two selection and award of one or more missions by September, 2015.”

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Europa New Frontiers Mission? (Or why I like the Europa Clipper concept even more now)

Jupiter’s moon Europa has been a priority destination for NASA’s planetary program since the mid-1990s.  With a deep ocean trapped beneath an icy shell on top and the rocky surface below, Europa is believed to have the chemicals and energy needed to host life.  Over the course of almost two decades, I’ve seen plans for a better, really cheaper, faster mission that just needed a lot of new technology to be developed.  As if to balance that plan out, there was a plan for the planetary equivalent of a Battlestar Gallatica mission that was both unaffordable and also required technology that still doesn’t exist.  I thought we were close with the Jupiter Europa Orbiter (JEO, circa 2010) until new cost estimates showed that it, too, was unaffordable.

Now we have a proposed mission, the Europa Clipper, that doesn’t require substantial technology development and that has a cost estimate (~$2B) that puts it well within the cost range of NASA’s larger science missions.  However, in today’s era of declining US federal budgets, the Clipper’s price tag is deemed unaffordable.

In a conversation with scientists on a NASA advisory panel, the head of the space agency’s Science program, John Grunsfeld discussed whether NASA should look at a Europa mission for half that of the Clipper mission.  If it could be done, then a Europa mission could fit in the established New Frontiers program of planetary missions.  (I want to emphasize that Grunsfeld’s conversation was informal and wasn’t announcing a policy decision.)

Grunsfeld’s comments made me curious.   Estimates for the last two serious Europa proposals have come in at $4.7B (JEO) and ~$2B (Clipper).   Was a mission for ~$1B (the recommended cost cap for future New Frontiers missions) credible?  In my post today, I report on the results of my thought experiment .

To give you my conclusion first, yes, a Europa New Frontiers mission seems to be a credible idea to examine.  However, I come away even more impressed with the Europa Clipper proposal and that’s the mission I want to see fly.

Depending on the instruments carried, a mission to Europa could study the surface morphology and composition, structure of the icy shell, or size and composition of the ocean and its interface to the rocky sphere below. Credit: JPL/NASA.

The analysis below is somewhat wonkish as I document the assumptions and rational behind my thought experiment.  Based on emails I receive from readers, getting any mission to Europa is a desire of many.  I want to be clear on the analogies I’m drawing and assumptions I’m making.  And remember that this is a thought experiment by an interested layman.  It’s all just fun speculation until a team of planetary scientists and engineers does the real work to evaluate the feasibility and science return.

A mission that orbits Jupiter faces a number of technical challenges.  The spacecraft must be powered (and sunlight is dim at Jupiter).  Jupiter possesses electronics-frying radiation (and Europa sits within the high radiation belt).  That is in addition to the normal challenges of any planetary mission to operate a suite of instruments, store their data, and return the results to Earth.

We have proof that a capable Jupiter spacecraft can be built within a New Frontiers budget because NASA did so with the Juno spacecraft that is en route to Jupiter now.   NASA qualified solar panels to work at Jupiter and developed shielding strategies to protect electronics from the worst of the radiation.  The Juno spacecraft also carries a highly sophisticated instrument package to study the giant planet.  (I was surprised to find a technical report on the mission that lists the total mass of the instruments at a large 155 kilograms.  This, however, might have been a preliminary figure.)

In some ways, Juno is a simpler spacecraft than one that would study Europa.  Juno spins like a top to provide stability rather than having to provide the more expensive rigid and precise 3-D pointing that would be needed for the cameras and other instruments to study a moon’s surface.  Juno’s instruments also produce relatively small amounts of data compared to the instruments required to study Europa.  That additional data for a Europa spacecraft requires expensive data storage and a more capable communications system and more power for the spacecraft.

In 2010, however, NASA completed studies of two New Frontiers-class missions to study Jovian moons as part of a planning process known as the Decadal Survey.  I looked at those reports for clues about the capabilities a Europa New Frontiers mission might have in a credible design that meets the technical and environmental challenges of operating in the Jovian system.  One of the reports described a multi-flyby spacecraft to study the volcanic moon Io (the Io Observer) and the other described a small orbiter for the icy moon Ganymede.

Io observer
Instrument mass
42 kg
108 kg
Encounter number
6 to 10
Time between flybys
60 days
7 to 21 days
Telemetry data rates
50 kbps
134 kbps*
Total data
240-400 Gbytes
~1440 Gbytes

Comparison of the overall capabilities of the proposed New Frontiers Io Observer mission and the proposed Flagship-class Europa Clipper mission.  *Kilobits of data per second.

Like the Europa Clipper mission, the Io Observer would perform multiple flybys of its target moon to study its features.  The cheaper Io Observer mission, however, would carry far few instruments, return much less data, and encounter its moon many fewer times than the Europa Clipper mission.

The two reports also showed that the New Frontiers missions would carry just four instruments each.  (Technically, the magnetometer and plasma instrument for each mission are distinct, but they support each other’s measurements and because they are low mass, I’ve combined them in the following table.)

Io Observer
Ganymede minimal orbiter
Laser Altimeter
IR spectrometer
High resolution imager
Thermal imager
Mass spectrometer
Magnetometer/Plasma instruments
Moderate resolution imager
Total mass (kg)

List of instruments and their masses for two New Frontiers missions proposed to study Jovian moons.

The science team for the Europa Clipper study has grouped the science goals into four categories and identified nine instruments to meet them.  I looked at subsets of the proposed Clipper instruments that would have a similar mass to the instruments proposed for the Io Observer and fulfill one or more science goals.  (A real mission’s instruments also need to fit within the spacecraft’s electrical power and data limits.  However, I couldn’t find a combination of instruments that fit within the mass limits but exceeded the power and data limits, so I’m showing only instrument masses.)

Science goals and instruments for the proposed Europa Clipper mission.  Masses for the instruments are shown at the end of this post.

One option for a Europa New Frontiers mission would study the icy shell that covers the ocean and that has been shaped by the movement of ice blocks and plumes of ice and water within the shell.  Understanding the icy shell would allow scientists to understand the forces that shaped the shell and that likely brought water from the oceans below to the surface.  The topographic imager would be a camera that would image much of the surface in multiple colors at 25 to 200 m resolution.

The ice penetrating radar would study the structure of the ice and any “bubbles” of water within the ice.  The radar proposed for the clipper mission would be particularly capable.  Operating in its shallow mode, it would penetrate just 3 kilometers into the shell but would have a vertical resolution of structures of 10 m.  Operating in its deep mode, it would penetrate 30 km but with a vertical resolution of 100 m.  Less capable, and lighter, radar instruments are possible.  The European JUICE mission to the Jovian system will carry a radar instrument that is just 12 kg but that can penetrate just 9 km with a vertical resolution of 30 to 90 m. 
Icy shell studies
Ice penetrating radar
Topographic imager
Total (kg)

Potential instruments for a mission that focuses on the icy shell.  All instrument masses are from the Europa Clipper studies unless otherwise noted

A second instrument option would not include the heavy (and data and power hungry) radar instrument, but would instead focus on studying the composition of the surface with an infrared spectrometer and a mass spectrometer.  (The latter would “taste” molecules blasted from the surface by Jupiter’s radiation or expelled from beneath the surface by possible plumes of gases.)  A topographic imager again would study the surface geology which would also provide data on the forces that structure the icy shell.  The magnetometer and plasma instrument would study the interaction of Jupiter’s powerful magnetic field with the salty water in the ocean to study the extent and salinity (important to understand the composition) of the ocean beneath the icy shell.

IR spectrometer
Mass spectrometer
Magnetometer/plasma instruments
Topographic imager
Total (kg)

Potential instruments to study the geology and composition of the surface ice as well as the hidden ocean.

Recently, there’s been one reported observation of a plume of water being expelled by Europa.  If this is confirmed, and the plumes are shown to be persistent and reliable, then a Europa mission might focus on studying those plumes.  By doing so, it would study the composition of water either from reservoirs trapped within the ice or from the ocean below.  Either way, this would be a unique opportunity to perform the kind of exciting science that the Cassini spacecraft has been doing with the plumes of Saturn’s moon Enceladus.

For this instrument list, I have duplicated the minimum list of instruments recommended by a Decadal Survey report on potential missions to Enceladus.  For this list, I show the mass of a more capable mass spectrometer than is currently planned for the Clipper mission.  (For the technically inclined, the current Clipper mass spectrometer would measure only neutral particles and not ions.  The alternative, and several times more massive mass spectrometer, would measure both and have capabilities similar to the Rosetta mission’s ROSINA mass spectrometer.)

Plume studies
Topographic imager
Mass spectrometer
Thermal imager
Dust analyzer
Total (kg)

Potential instruments to study possible Europan plumes.  The mass for the dust analyzer is from the Decadal Survey Enceladus mission studies.

Before examining the question of whether a Europa New Frontiers mission would be a good investment, I want to emphasize that the instrument lists given above are to illustrate possible capabilities to show that good science likely could be done within the limits of a New Frontiers mission.  A professional science and engineering team studying such a mission would almost certainly come up with a better alternative than any of these.

So, would a Europa New Frontiers mission be a good investment at ~$1B if ~$2B couldn’t be found to do the Europa Clipper mission?  The answer would have to come from a study conducted by planetary scientists and engineers.  I’ll suggest some of the questions they may ask to get to the answer.

One way to ask the question is whether we would end up knowing far more about Europa than we do today following the Galileo mission of the 1990s.  The members of the Decadal Survey answered ‘yes’ to this question for missions of similar capability to study Io and Ganymede.  (The former is on the list of candidate missions approved by the Survey.  The latter was left off that list based on the hope that a European mission called JUICE would be approved (which it has been) to orbit Ganymede.)  I don’t see how a similar capability mission to Europa would be less valuable.

However, there is now an approved European mission, JUICE, which will arrive at Jupiter in the late 2020s.  While its focus will be on Jupiter itself and Ganymede, it will make at least two close flybys of Europa.  Right now, almost a decade before launch, the JUICE team is committing to just those two encounters.  They know, though, of the importance of studying Europa, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t eventually do a handful of flybys.  (The limitation on the number of flybys will be the high radiation exposure each Europa encounter brings.  Designing in additional radiation hardening is expensive.)

The JUICE spacecraft will carry a more capable instrument suite than a New Frontiers spacecraft would carry.  So would a New Frontiers spacecraft with six to ten flybys provide enough additional science over what JUICE would do with two flybys?  Or maybe five JUICE Europa flybys?

There are ways that a New Frontiers mission could compliment rather than compete with JUICE’s measurements.  Because of orbital mechanics, the JUICE encounters will occur at nearly the same point in Europa’s orbit around Jupiter.  This means that only one hemisphere of the moon will be sunlit for imaging and infrared spectroscopy.  A New Frontiers mission could arrange its orbits to encounter Europa at a location where the other hemisphere is lit.  (The Clipper mission proposes to vary its orbit to encounter Europa at two locations for near global mapping.)

If the reported Europa plumes are real and persistent, there’s a hint that they operate only (or most strongly) at the point in Europa’s orbit where it is furthest from Europa.  Unless the gods smile upon us, this is unlikely to be the same point where JUICE will encounter Europa.  The New Frontiers craft could tweak its orbit to encounter the plumes where they are most active for repeated passes through them.

It’s also possible for the two spacecraft to carry complimentary instruments.  JUICE will have good, but heavy, instruments that would allow it to search for and study any Europan plumes from a distance and over time.  A New Frontiers spacecraft then could do the up close measurements going to plume locations spotted at a distance by JUICE.  A New Frontiers craft could also carry a dust counter and thermal imager that won’t be aboard JUICE to better characterize the plume structures and their sources.

The last measure of whether a New Frontiers mission would be good enough would likely be the toughest.  Would the science done be good enough that NASA and other space agencies could avoid having to refly a similar mission later at another $1B+ to meet the science goals?  This is a different question than asking whether a second spacecraft to make different measurements would be needed.  If two New Frontiers missions at ~$1B each did the same science as a $2B Clipper, then doing two cheaper missions is just buying on the installment plan.  But what if those cheaper missions couldn’t do the right measurements or enough of them to answer the priority science questions?

Here the likely small number of encounters for a New Frontiers spacecraft may be the critical issue.  The Clipper has the budget to design in the radiation hardening into the spacecraft and instruments to last for a planned 45 orbits.  To keep costs low, a New Frontiers mission likely would not have the radiation hardening for that many orbits.  The Io Observer study team thought that six to ten encounters was doable on a New Frontiers budget.  (It’s difficult for a layman to compare the radiation exposure for an Io flyby and a Europa flyby, so I don’t know how to translate the Io limit for a Europa mission.  My gut says it’s probably many, many fewer encounters than is planned for the Clipper mission.)

I don’t know the answer to this question, but suspect that the science definition team would wrestle with it.

So what’s my personal takeaway from my thought experiment?  A Europa New Frontiers mission seems like a credible idea to explore.  However, it would take three New Frontiers-class spacecraft to fly all the instruments planned for the Europa Clipper (assuming ~40kg of instruments per spacecraft).  The sum cost would be considerably higher than the cost for the Europa Clipper.  In addition, the Clipper would have 45 flybys of Europa compared with just 6 to 10 flybys planned for the Io Observer (and by analogy for a Euorpa New Frontiers spacecraft).

I am deeply impressed with the capabilities planned for the Clipper mission, and if it flies it will be awesome, and the right science will be done to sufficient depth that we won’t have to do it again.  I want to see the Clipper mission fly.

I’m also not sure that it will be any easier getting $1B than $2B for a mission.  NASA’s current budget can’t afford either one until early in the next decade.  So doing either class of mission requires additional funds beyond what is currently planned.  I view Uncle Sam like an ornery, miserly uncle who gives you hell whether you ask for $100 or $1000, so you might as well ask for the top figure.  (Actually three ornery uncles: the President’s budget office, and each house of Congress since they are controlled by different political parties.)

John Grunsfeld gets paid the big bucks to make the decision on whether to study and then propose a New Frontiers mission instead of the more expensive Europa Clipper.

I just want to get to Europa for an in-depth study of that world, and I hope Grunsfeld and his managers can pull at one of these magic rabbits out of their hats. 

Appendix: Approved JUICE instruments and proposed Europa Clipper instruments.  Several of JUICE’s instruments will be more focused on studying Jupiter and its magnetosphere than on the moons.

Ice penetrating radar
Visible-IR imaging spectrometer
Particle environment package/ mass spectrometer*
Hi-resolution Camera
Ganymede laser altimeter
Sub-mm Wave instrument*
Radio & plasma wave investigation
Thermal imager
UV spectrograph
Radio science experiment
Topographic imager
Total (kg)
*Package of 6 instruments on JUICE                                           2 instruments on Clipper
Alternative more capable Clipper mass spectrometer  adds 17 kg

Some notes on New Frontiers mission costs: In the past, NASA selected New Frontiers missions that had a cost target of ~$750M for costs that would be managed by the missions’ Principal Investigators (PIs):  the spacecraft, instruments, mission operations, and data analysis.  Additional costs borne by NASA included the launch, cost overruns (if any), increased costs due to factors such as delayed funding and schedule slips.  (For example, NASA delayed the launch of Juno to pay the costs of other missions, which increased the time the Juno development team had to be paid.)  The final quoted cost for the Juno mission is $1.1B with all these costs included. 

A number of New Frontiers missions were studied for the Decadal Survey, and all had engineering team cost estimates, which included launch costs.  Four New Frontiers missions had full cost reviews that included launch costs and reserves for were termed as “threats”: overruns, delayed funding, and the like.  Including all these costs, these four mission concepts were estimated to have total costs to NASA of $1.3B to $1.4B.   Based on similarities in mission goals and broad design requirements, a simple multi-flyby Europa mission might have similar total mission costs.

Based on the results of the cost estimates, the members of the Decadal Survey recommended that future New Frontiers missions have Principal Investigator cost caps of ~$1B.  NASA would also need to cover launch costs and any cost overruns from project delays or PI cost growth.

The commonly quoted cost estimate for the Europa Clipper, ~$2B, is an approximate mean of costs for several alternative implementations.   Launch costs and additional costs from “threats” would be added costs to NASA.  Given these, a New Frontiers mission might cost somewhat less than half the cost of a Clipper mission but would likely do much less than half the science (taking into account both a smaller instrument compliment, lower data rates, and fewer flybys). 

My take is that on a dollar per science return basis, the Europa Clipper is likely a much better investment than a New Frontiers mission.  If the latter is formally studied, I’ll be interested to see if the professionals reach the same conclusion.