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Uranus and Neptune Are Potential Targets for 2030s Missions

Accepted submission by takyon at 2017-06-20 03:32:59

The Ice Giants Pre-Decadal Study group has proposed sending a mission [] to either Uranus [] or Neptune []. Only one mission is likely to be approved due to a shortage of plutonium-238 for the radioisotope thermoelectric generators [] required for an outer solar system mission:

Uranus and Neptune have never got much attention from us – we've only passed each once and never hung around. But that could change. A NASA group has now outlined possible missions to make it to one of these outer worlds to gather data on their composition. This should teach us about them and similar planets in other solar systems.

"The preferred mission is an orbiter with an atmospheric probe to either Uranus or Neptune [] – this provides the highest science value, and allows in depth study of all aspects of either planet's system: rings, satellites, atmosphere, magnetosphere," says Amy Simon [], co-chair of the Ice Giants Pre-Decadal Study group.

There are four proposed missions – three orbiters and a fly-by of Uranus, which would include a narrow angle camera to draw out details, especially of the ice giant's moons. It would also drop an atmospheric probe to take a dive into Uranus's atmosphere to measure the levels of gas and heavy elements there.

The three must-haves for each orbiter mission are a narrow-angle camera, a doppler imager and a magnetometer, while an orbiter containing 15 instruments would add plasma detectors, infrared and UV imaging, dust detection and microwave radar capability. The orbiter could be either a Neptune mission with an atmospheric probe, a Uranus probe of the same design, or a craft sent to a Uranus that ditches the atmospheric probe for the suite of 15 instruments.

Moon values: Neptune's Triton [] vs. Uranus's Titania [], Oberon [], Umbriel [], Ariel [], and Miranda [] (all rounded by gravity).

Obligatory grade school humor:

NASA wants to probe Uranus in search of gas []
NASA wants to probe deeper into Uranus than ever before []

Also at The Verge [].

Original Submission