Missions Deferred for Technical Reasons Until After 2020

Examples of post-2020 missions enabled by Prometheus-derived propulsion include, in heliocentric order, the following:

  • Icy Moons Subsurface Sample Return. Large icy, airless moons have surfaces that are greatly altered by external processes (e.g., bombardment by magnetospheric particle and micrometeorites, and ultraviolet chemistry and textural alteration). At a depth of centimeters to meters, the ice is less altered by these processes and contains information on the evolution of the body and possibly the conditions of origin. The specific goals vary from moon to moon. In the special case of Europa, there is likely to be a particularly high science return if the near-surface ice contains little modified material delivered from a subsurface ocean or melting event. This mission has very high technology demands because of the need to provide energy on the surface, as well as the need to deliver material out of Jupiter’s gravity well and cryogenically back to Earth’s surface. Meeting these demands would draw on nuclear propulsion and RPS capabilities of the type being developed by Project Prometheus.

  • Main-Belt, Trojan Asteroid, and Centaur Multi-Sample Return. Performing the first detailed laboratory studies of the solar system’s compositional gradient is the primary science goal of this mission concept. With nuclear power and propulsion, sampling a broad range of solar system bodies and returning those samples to Earth would become a newly enabled capability. Key to this study is characterization of the volatile inventory of the solar system, with the goal to understand the source of the life-enabling volatiles on Earth.


1. See, for example, S. Miller, J. Essmiller, and D. Beaty, “Mars Deep Drill—Explore Active Hydrothermal Habitats,” Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., 2004. Available online at <http://mepag.jpl.nasa.gov/Advanced_Mission_Studies/index.html>, last accessed February 2, 2006.

2. See, for example, R. Diehl, “Astrobiology Field Laboratory—2013 Biosignature Detection,” Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., 2004. Available online at <http://mepag.jpl.nasa.gov/Advanced_Mission_Studies/index.html>, last accessed February 2, 2006.

3. J.L. Hall, V.V. Kerzhanovich, A.H. Yavrouian, J.A. Jones, C.V. White, B.A. Dudik, G.A. Plett, J. Mennella, and A. Elfes, “An Aerobot for Global In Situ Exploration of Titan,” Advances in Space Research, in press.

4. Team Prometheus, NASA/DOE, Saturn/Titan—JIMO Follow-On Mission Study, Final Report, NASA, Washington, D.C., July 9, 2004.

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