Tuesday, November 25, 2008

While I've been Away

Sorry I haven't posted in a few weeks, here is a recap:
  • The New Frontiers-3 Draft AO is now online. The Announcement of Opportunity states that following classes of mission proposals will be accepted: Aitken Basin Sample Return, Venus in Situ Explorer, Comet Surface Sample Return, Network Science, Trojan/Centaur Reconnaissance, Asteroid Rover/Sample Return, Io Observer, and Ganymede Observer. The cost cap has been set to $650 million in FY09 dollars and will be not be permited to use radioisotope power sources. This would make a potential Io Observer difficult, but NOT impossible due to the radiation environment at Io (I will get to why it isn't impossible in a later post). Despite the National Research Council's recommendation, the AO was not opened up to "all missions except to Earth and the Sun that fit within the budget and power source constraints," as Jim Green promised back in March.
  • Van Kane has a great post comparing the virtues of the Saturn/Titan and Jupiter/Europa missions now vying for the flagship mission spot. I think Van hits the nail on the head here. I will post a similar recommendation post soon.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Quick News

Here are a few quick notes:
  • The Volcanism on Io Wikipedia is now featured on the main page of the popular encylopedic website, giving millions of people a chance to learn more about this fascinating word. Thanks to all who helped in bring that article to this point!
  • Phoenix has finally kicked the bucket. A sad day, but not unexpected given the changing seasons in the Martian arctic. Congratulations go out to the Phoenix lander team for producing such a successful mission.
  • I have added the Follower applet on the sidebar at right. So feel free to show your support for my blog.

OPAG Fall Meeting Presentations

The presentations for last week's OPAG Fall Meeting are now online. These include several presentations covering the two Outer Planet Flagship mission proposals, the Europa/Jupiter System Mission (EJSM) and the Titan/Saturn System Mission (TSSM), as well as other programmatic presentations.

The final reports for the two proposal teams were due last Monday so last week's OPAG meeting were the first opportunity to present the finalized proposals. These include a more detailed sample mission profile, payload, and science goals. EJSM would include two mission components: the Jupiter Europa Orbiter (JEO) and the Jupiter Ganymede Orbiter (JGO). According to the baseline mission plan, the two components would launch separately in February and March 2020. JEO would arrive at Jupiter in December 2025 while JGO would arrive in February 2026. JEO would then conduct an orbital tour of the Jupiter system over a period of 31 months, before entering orbit around Europa in July 2028. During the Jupiter tour phase, JEO would perform more than two dozen flybys of the Galilean satellites. JGO would conduct a more focused tour of the outer two Galileans before going into orbit around Ganymede in late February 2028. There are hints in the presentation that JGO might attempt to encounter one of the outer irregular satellites during its mission.

The NASA-supplied component, JEO, would encounter Io four times during its mission. The first encounter would occur just before Jupiter Orbit Insertion (JOI), and like the flyby before Galileo's JOI, the Europa Orbiter would not acquire science during Io-0. During the other three encounters, performed in the second half of 2026, 25% of Io's surface would be imaged at better than 200 meters/pixel. The last of the three encounters would occur at an altitude of 75 kilometers, enabling direct plume sampling, though the current sample profile would not allow for sampling of any known plume except for maybe the outer reaches of the Culann plume. It should be noted though that the tours shown are just examples that are subject to change. For example, the Cassini prime mission tour wasn't approved until a few years before it arrived at Saturn. The presentation goes on to mention that the radar instrument on JEO would be active for the flybys allowing for sub-surface sounding and altimetry. These could be useful in constraining tidal heating models and near-surface lithospheric structure. Another interesting slide in the EJSM presentation is the data return plan. The EJSM team plans to return 3 Gb per day from Jupiter during the tour, providing for hundreds of narrow angle camera images per day along with context images from other imagers. This could provide very decent monitoring of Jupiter and Io processes. Finally, the JEO team plans to image Io once or twice a week while in Europa orbit for monitoring purposes.

The payload for EJSM seems pretty capable. In addition to three camera systems (narrow-, wide-, and medium-angle cameras), the payload includes: a laser altimeter, an ice-penetrating radar, a Visible-IR spectrometer, an UV spectrometer, and Ion and Neutral Ion Spectrometer, a thermal instrument, a magnetometer, and a plasma and particle instrument. The communications antenna on JEO can also be used for radio science experiments. The specific instruments will be selected via an annoucement of opportunity. The JGO would carry a similar payload.

EJSM faces competition with TSSM for the Outer Planet Flagship Mission. TSSM would provide a NASA Titan orbiter, an ESA balloon, and an ESA lander planned for central Kraken Mare.

There is some disagreement between the presentations about when the downselection will occur. The EJSM presentations suggests that down-selection occurs in January 2009 with a confirmation of this selection by the ESA Science Programme Committee on February 4 (the ESA component would be formally approved at the end of 2012, where the component would have to compete with Xeus and LISA). A presentation by Curt Niebur still uses mid-February 2009 as the downselection date.

Link: Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG) - November 6-7, 2008 Meeting Agenda

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I am deeply saddened right now. Our country has gone in a very wrong direction tonight and I just don't know what to say. Shocked. Saddened. Horrified. I recognize the choice of the majority in this country, but still... wow. I hope my worst fears are not realized. I hope in four years we will be better off. I am proud to some extent of the historic choice the country has made, but I feel that this particular candidate was not the right one for this time in our history.

I believe this country can be a great one. However, I think that can only be done by not looking to the solutions of the past, which I felt Obama represented, but by look for the solutions of the future. I believe that the presidency is not a popularity contest. I believe the presidency requires the culmination of a lifetime of political and lifetime experience.

A few things I will be doing is reading up on the 1917 Russian Revolution so I will know what to do. Probably go back to burying myself in work I guess.

I guess what that means is no more politics here. Sorry, I just needed to get a few things off my chest. This is just such a tragic day.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A few quick notes

Here are just a few quick news items:
  • The final reports for the two Outer Planet Flagship teams, the Europa/Jupiter System Mission (EJSM) and the Titan/Saturn System Mission (TSSM), were due today. I have no idea when these reports will be available online, but both teams will be making the first of their final pitches later this week at the Outer Planet Assessment Group meeting in Tempe, Arizona. Presentations from that meeting should be available much sooner than the final reports, giving us a look at what the final missions will look like.
  • The Wikipedia article Volcanism on Io will be the main page featured article. Yeah! This would make it the second article I had a big hand in molding to be the main page featured article (the other being Enceladus).