a focused technology program element to prepare the required capabilities. Development of new and improved capabilities for entry and landing, mobility, sample acquisition and return, and planetary protection will help ensure progress toward the key objectives of the next and following decades.

Solar System Access and Other Core Technologies

The core multi-mission technologies described above provide the foundation for many of the missions that comprise the majority of planetary flight opportunities. It is essential that the Planetary Science Division continue to advance the state of the art in these technologies to benefit both the competed and the flagship mission programs. In addition, flexibility to respond to new discoveries should be a hallmark of technology programs for the next decade. The allocation of technology monies for discovery-driven elements will ensure the ability to react quickly to the new needs and opportunities that are certain to emerge.

Research and development in the fields of celestial mechanics, trajectory optimization, and mission design have paid substantial dividends in the recent past, identifying new and higher-performance opportunities for planetary missions. A future sustained effort in this technology area is essential, both to exploit fully the expanding range of possible mission modes (electric propulsion, aerocapture, etc.) and to continue to develop the automated software tools for searching rapidly for the “best” mission opportunities.


The future of solar system exploration depends on a well-conceived, robust, stable technology investment program. As recommended above, NASA’s Planetary Science Division should strive to set aside 6 to 8 percent of its mission budget for technology investments. It should also make certain that its technology program has a balanced portfolio, with significant investments in each of the key technology components. Table 11.3 presents an example of a technology investment profile that would have the appropriate balance.

TABLE 11.3 An Example of a Possible Technology Investment Profile That Would Be Appropriately Balanced for the Future Requirements for Solar System Exploration

Technology Element Percentage Allocation Key Capabilities
Science instruments 35 Environmental adaptation
Radiation tolerance
In situ sample analysis and age dating
Planetary protection
Extreme environments 15 Survivability under high temperature and pressure
Radiation tolerance (subsystems)
Survival and mobility in cryogenic conditions
In situ exploration 25 Sample acquisition and handling
Descent and ascent propulsion systems
Thermal protection for entry and descent
Impactor and penetrator systems
Precision landing
Mobility on surfaces and in atmospheres
Planetary protection
Solar system access and core technologies 25 Reduced spacecraft mass and power
Improved interplanetary propulsion
Low-power, high-rate communications
Enhanced autonomy and computing
Improved power sources
Innovative mission and trajectory design

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement