Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Space.com - NASA, Europe Explore Joint Mission to Outer Planets

Space.com has a nice article on the current status of the flagship mission selection process as it stands at the moment. There isn't anything that hasn't been covered here in the last week (though obviously it covers the Titan/Saturn mission too, though it still gets the final destination of the orbiter in that mission wrong). It again seems to confirm what I have heard (and can be seen in the timeline in the EJSM presentation) that downselection is currently being targeted for mid-November of this year. The author also seem to imply that ESA is still committed to their separate downselection process for their Cosmic Visions program, which could see one of two space observatories being developed instead of their commitment to this flagship mission (be it the Jupiter Planetary Orbiter or the Titan balloon). The article also highlights the possibility of a Russian-made Europa lander more than a possible Japanese-built Magnetospheric orbiter.

The comments are pretty interesting. Obviously the presidential election will take a backseat to this far more important decision: Should we go to Europa first, or Titan? It isn't bloody yet, but you just wait. I'd pay to see Bob and Ralph go ten rounds.

Okay, so which do I favor? I currently work on Titan data from Cassini. Obviously, my favorite moon is still Io, and I would love to see more upclose observations of that moon (forget Europa, let's just flyby Io). For the time being, it is rather difficult for me to chose one or the other. For example, we still don't know what the baseline payload for Jupiter Planetary Orbiter is. For Io science, it is imperative that this spacecraft have a decent narrow-angle camera with a IFOV of at least 10 ┬Árad (100,000 km altitude = 1 km/pixel). The Europa Orbiter could flyby Io as many as four times. As long as these are in the baseline mission, and the JPO has a decent camera, I would support the Europa/Jupiter System Mission. Looking strictly at the primary missions of both concepts, I am more impressed and excited by the Titan/Saturn System Mission. If Io science were to be greatly curtailed in the Jupiter system mission, I think the Titan project would be great.

Link: NASA, Europe Explore Joint Mission to Outer Planets [www.space.com]

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