After completing their historic mission to Pluto, NASA is planning a potential unmanned visit to the “ice giants” of our solar system: Uranus and Neptune.
The mission would be a flagship mission, which are of a larger scale and are more expensive than the other two mission types, Discovery and New Frontiers.
“The composition and chemistry of ice giant atmospheres provides clues about their formation, evolution and current state”, explained a research paper referenced as part of NASA’s Outer Planets Assessment Group Meeting in Laurel, Maryland. If the mission is approved, it should cost less than $2 billion, and will employ the state-of-the-art SLS rocket launch system now being developed by NASA.
A planned Neptune mission named Argo was cancelled two years ago because the space agency did not have access to sufficient plutonium to power the projected spacecraft. It would be helpful as it could considerably speed up travel time to Uranus and Neptune without any requirement of gravity assistance. Some of the space agency’s most high-profile missions, such as the Galileo, Cassini and Voyager projects, have been flagship missions. But now that NASA has enough plutonium stores though, it’s too late to meet a special 2015 to 2020 launch window that could’ve put Argo on Neptune within 10 years as it will be assisted by gravity from Saturn and Jupiter.
If the mission is approved, the resulting spacecraft will be following in the footsteps of the Mars2020 and Europa Multiple Flyby missions.
Europa is one of several solar system worlds that could potentially harbor subsurface oceans where microbial life could live.
Because it is in a retrograde orbit, Neptune is believed to be a captured Kuiper Belt Object. Aside from Triton, the Tech Times journalist also pointed out that Neptune’s five moons would make it a great candidate, as they are as large as dwarf planets.
The possible existence of subsurface oceans in the solar system has prompted the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies to propose NASA undertake a new Ocean Worlds Exploration Program. She studied journalism at Douglass College, Rutgers University, and earned a Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy from Swinburne University’s Astronomy Online program.