Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Io Volcano Observer at LPLC

Yesterday was the second and final day of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory Conference in Tucson, Arizona. This is a small conference where researchers at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory can share their current work with their colleagues here. Many of the talk in the morning where dedicated to dynamics and space physics. I am amazed I stayed awake...

The afternoon sessions included Titan and other satellites in the Solar System. I gave a talk on Cassini images of Titan, particularly those of Titan's polar regions. Alfred McEwen, my advisor, gave a talk on the Io Volcano Observer (IVO, pronounced eye-voh), a mission concept in the Discovery & Scout Mission Capability Expansion (DSCME) program. I have reported on this concept study previously and on the abstract McEwen submitted to the conference.

The talk provided a few new details on this mission concept. The IVO team is aiming for a 2013 launch on an Atlas V with a back-up launch date in 2014. The spacecraft would be launched into a Venus-Earth gravity assist trajectory with an arrival at Jupiter in the 2019 timeframe. Once at Jupiter, IVO would flyby Io shortly before Jupiter orbit insertion, which would lower JOI delta-V and provide an insurance flyby in case any issues occur during the JOI burn. Once at Jupiter, IVO would be injected into a 200-day orbit around Jupiter with a 45 degree inclination.

Over the course of the 1-2 year mission, IVO would use 5-10 Io flybys to bring its orbital period down to 30 days. Each flyby would have a close-approach distance between 500 and 1000 km with 100 km flybys possible later in the mission. The high-inclination orbit would provide much needed polar coverage, which would be complementary to observations acquired by Galileo and the Europa orbiter mission. Flybys would occur at similar solar longitudes on Io to reduce the variables when comparing images between flybys.

The base payload for IVO includes a narrow-angle camera, a Thermal Imager, a Neutral Mass Spectrometer, and a Radiation detector for a total payload weight of 34 kg (44 kg with 30% margin). The nominal narrow angle camera planned would weigh 15 kg and would have a resolution of 10 microradians per pixel (the same as Galileo SSI). The goal for this camera is to observe Io's ever-changing surface by observing the same volcanic features during each flyby. The camera would also be used to measure Io's limb topography, which would help constrain Io's tidal bulge and thus provide constraints on Io's current tidal heating. The camera will make use of active pixel sensors, which have increased radiation hardness compared to traditional CCDs. These sensors will also allow the IVO team to acquire simultaneous multi-spectral imaging. This would make acquiring color mosaics a much simpler task as well as help support lava temperature measurements, since lava fountains can change on the order of seconds.

The Thermal Imager would be similar to the THEMIS instrument on the Mars Odyssey spacecraft. The IVO team is looking for an instrument that would acquire near- to mid-IR imaging at 3, 8, and 20 microns, to measure Io's heat flow. Assuming something akin to THEMIS is used (which is possible considering that the PI for THEMIS, Phil Christensen, is on the IVO team), the Thermal Imager would have a 4.6 deg. FOV with 250 microradians/pixel resolution (effectively 1 km/pixel per 4000 km).

Unfortunately, Alfred was nearing his alloted time by the time he finished discussing the Thermal Imager so he didn't spend time covering NMS, UVS, and the Radiation Detector. He pointed out that the "Powerpoint" mission might have a chance in Hell of flying, considering that Io is a world of fire and brimstone, there is a team member named Dante, and that Alfred will be 66 years old when IVO arrives at Jupiter (assuming that IVO flies on the back-up 2014 VEEGA trajectory).

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