Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What's next for the Europa Jupiter System Mission

The news of the Outer Planet Flagship downselection is beginning to reverberate across the internet and planetary science community. Jim Green, the directory of the Planetary Science Division at NASA, has posted a message to the Science Community on the OPF website. The Planetary Society has also issued a statement on this announcement. You can check that out on Emily Lakdawalla's blog. Also, check out the thread on at UMSF if you wish, though feel free to leave a comment here with your reaction to this news.

Now that the Europa Jupiter System Mission has been selected, what's next for a mission whose launch (nominally) doesn't take place for another 11 years?

Pre-Phase A
Starting today (or last year about this time, depending on how you look at it), EJSM enters Pre-Phase A. Spacecraft development is generally defined in different stages, or phases, of progress, running from Phase A through Phase F. During Pre-Phase A, mission planners will be looking to further refine the mission concept and working on risk mitigation. From now until January 2011, work will be performed on further defining the mission goals of the EJSM, though the Final Reports states that since so much has gone into defining the goals of a Europa mission already, these are not likely to change. Neither are the definitions of the types of instruments that will be needed, though further refining maybe needed in the run up to an instrument Announcement of Opportunity, to be released by NASA in December 2010. So, the majority of the planning work over the next two years will be performed on risk mitigation, particularly with respect to planetary protection and radiation-hardening. Planning done now could be used to save money in the future (particularly in Phase A) and help reduce the chance for cost over runs.

For the Jupiter Ganymede Orbiter, that spacecraft is now in the running for the European Space Agency's Cosmic Visions L-class mission. That's right, despite this downselection, the contest isn't over for JGO. Though JEO is safe, it was selected and it enters Pre-Phase A. The Jupiter Ganymede Orbiter will be squaring off against two astronomy missions: XEUS, an X-ray telescope that will search for black holes and examine the structure of clusters of galaxies, and LISA, a constellation of three spacecraft that will act as a gravitational wave observatory. As currently outlined by ESA, the three missions will be narrowed down to two in October and November of this year. These two missions will then be in a "competive definition phase" during 2010 and 2011, with the downselection to one mission taking place in November 2011. Even then, the decision to proceed with the selected mission "will depend on the financial situation of the programme." So the Jupiter Ganymede Orbiter has a long road ahead of it.

Phase A
During the next stage of development, Phase A, the instruments will be selected and reviewed. According to the final report, a NASA Instrument Announcement of Opportunity is planned in December 2010 with proposals due in March 2011 and payload selected in September 2011. Keep in mind that the instruments outlined in the various reports published for this concept study were model payloads, basically providing a rough idea of what the mission team is looking for out of a particular instrument. Further refinements during Pre-Phase A could obviously change what they are looking for. For example, the mission team may want different frequencies for the Ice-Penetrating Radar than what is outlined in the Final Report. Phase A ends once all the instruments have been selected, reviewed, and approved by NASA HQ.

Looking Forward
With the end of Phase A expected in October 2013, the moves on to the the other phases. During Phase B, which will run about 20 months from October 2013 through June 2015, more detailed designs will be developed for both the spacecraft and the various parts of the spacecraft with preliminary design reviews in late 2014 and early 2015. In Phase C, running for 30 months from June 2015 through December 2017, the various parts and instruments will go through one final review in late 2015 and early 2016 before actually being built. Software and avionics will be developed and integrated and the mission plan and trajectory will start to reach a final state. In Phase D, the various parts and instruments will actually be assembled into a working spacecraft in early 2018. This will be then be followed by rigorous testing to make sure all the spacecraft's parts are working the way they should be and that the spacecraft can handle launch and the environment of space. Finally JEO will be delivered to Kennedy Space Center in Florida in August 2019 and from there it will be launched on a Atlas V in March 2020.

So, now the real work begins (and that was just a very coarse summary above).

EDIT 02/19/2009 1:40am: Corrected the launch vehicle from Delta IV to an Atlas V. Sorry about that.

1 comment:

  1. hope i'm still alive for all this. crazy we sent men to the moon in 9 years and now it takes 20 years to send a probe to jupiter. depressing.

    the next 10 years will be light in terms of planetary exploration compared to the last 10.