Planetary survey supported
Posted: July 21, 2002

The Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society fully supports the plan for Solar System exploration just released by the National Research Council "New Frontiers in the Solar System: An Integrated Exploration Strategy". The DPS was actively involved in the Survey, providing ad-hoc reports written by its members as input to the NRC Survey Panels. The Survey provides a science community consensus on priorities for planetary missions and ground-based research for the next decade.

The key overall recommendations for non-Mars planetary missions are

1) maintenance of the Discovery program of low-cost (total mission cost less than $325M) missions at a flight rate of one every 18 months,

2) start of a New Frontiers line of medium-cost (less than $650M) competitively procured missions to be implemented as in the Discovery program, but selected from a prioritized list provided by the Survey, with a flight rate of about one every 3 years, and

3) one large-cost mission (greater than $650M) per decade.

The recommended large-cost mission is the Europa Geophysical Explorer, a version of the JPL Europa Orbiter concept. The recommended medium-cost New Frontiers missions are in priority order 1) KBO/Pluto Explorer, 2) Lunar South Polar Aitken Basin Sample Return, 3) Jupiter Polar Orbiter with Probes, 4) Venus In-Situ Explorer, and 5) Comet Surface Sample Return. The prioritized list of New Frontiers missions includes more than three missions to provide flexibility for technology and budgetary developments over the next ten years. In addition to the Discovery program of low-cost missions, the Survey recommends extension of the Cassini mission beyond its prime mission termination in 2007.

The Survey contains a separate set of prioritized recommendations for the Mars Exploration Program. After the launch of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2005, there are two recommendations for the low-cost category of missions 1) a Mars Scout program of competitively procured missions implemented in the same manner as Discovery, with a flight rate of one Scout launch at every other Mars opportunity (one every 52 months) beginning in 2007, and 2) a Mars upper atmosphere orbiter. In the medium class category, the recommendations are for a Mars Smart Lander launch in 2009 and a Mars Long-lived Lander Network that could be implemented by international cooperation. The Survey recommends that these missions be implemented in a manner to build towards a Mars Sample Return mission early in the next decade. The Lunar South Polar Aitken Basin Sample Return mission should also be implemented in a manner to provide appropriate technological development for a Mars Sample Return.

There are also recommendations on fundamental research and analysis including a gradual increase in grant programs, recommendations on mission data analysis, the Deep Space Network, and technology development with an endorsement of the nuclear power and propulsion technologies initiative, and recommendations on ground-based support programs including a recommendation to share development and operations of a Large Synoptic Survey Telescope with the NSF. Implementation of the recommendations in this Survey would provide for a broad, integrated program of scientific exploration throughout the Solar System and enable new scientific discoveries addressing some of the most compelling scientific questions in planetary science.

The Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society endorses this report and looks forward to seeing its provisions implemented.

The DPS is the world's largest professional organization dedicated to the exploration of the Solar System.

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