aerocapture at Neptune (see “Aerocapture” above), will require significant advances in the state of the art if autonomous systems are to handle the vagaries of hypersonic flight in an atmosphere whose spatial and temporal variability is not well understood.
CAPS concludes that some, if not all, of the technologies mentioned in Table 3 have the potential to enhance and/or enable the science return for mission concepts studied previously and that a more careful examination of them will form useful input to the next planetary science decadal survey. Any assessment of a particular advanced technology will require an understanding of whether it would be funded and managed separately or would be part of the development cost of whatever mission needed it.
Mechanisms for Conducting Necessary Studies
The third question posed to CAPS in the statement of task asks about appropriate mechanisms by which mission [and technology] study gaps might be filled in the near- to mid-term future. On the basis of the limited discussions and deliberations during its March 2017 meeting, CAPS identified a number of potential mechanisms by which missions and technology studies might be completed in advance of the initiation of the next planetary science decadal survey. These mechanisms are as follows:
- Ensuring that analysis/assessment groups’ goals documents are up to date. An essential prerequisite to mission planning is a comprehensive assessment of the science goals for each important planetary body. The authors of Vision and Voyages found the science goals documents prepared by the various analysis/assessment groups (e.g., Venus Exploration Analysis Group [VEXAG], LEAG, Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group [MEPAG], Outer Planets Assessment Group, Small Bodies Assessment Group) to be an invaluable resource.64 Ensuring that the latest round of updates to the respective documents is completed no later than the end of the first quarter of 2020 would be an exceptionally valuable community input to the next planetary science decadal survey.
- Tasking the analysis/assessment groups to undertake specific activities. The analysis/assessment groups are ideally constituted to undertake comprehensive assessments of current and/or required missions and their technologies. Moreover, these community-based groups have a track record of drafting roadmaps and undertaking mission studies. Examples of relevant reports drafted by VEXAG,65 LEAG,66,67 and MEPAG68 are mentioned in the section “Mission Studies Completed in Recent Years.” Additional activities specifically aimed at creating input for the next planetary science decadal survey are encouraged.
65 Venus Exploration Analysis Group, Roadmap for Venus Exploration, 2014, http://www.lpi.usra.edu/vexag/reports/Roadmap-140617.pdf.
66 Lunar Exploration Analysis Group, Volatiles Specific Action Team: Final Report, December 31, 2014, http://www.lpi.usra.edu/leag/reports/vsat_report_123114x.pdf.
68 Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group, Report from the Next Orbiter Science Analysis Group, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., 2015, https://mepag.jpl.nasa.gov/reports/NEX-SAG_draft_v29_FINAL.pdf.
- Soliciting competition for NASA funds to conduct studies of particular missions. The most recent example of this basic mechanism for soliciting mission input to a decadal survey was the call issued by NASA’s Astrophysics Division in August 2016 for astrophysics probe mission—that is, a proposed new class of astrophysics mission broadly analogous in cost and scope to those in the Planetary Science Division’s New Frontiers program—concept studies.69 A total of 27 proposals were submitted in response to this solicitation, and 10 concepts (eight for full and two for partial studies) were selected in March 2017 for 18-month, $150,000 studies. As explained in the Selection Decision Document,70 the results of the studies will be provided by NASA as input to the 2020 astronomy and astrophysics decadal survey, scheduled to begin in late 2018/early 2019. Other examples more closely related to NASA’s Planetary Science Division, although not specifically focused on generating input to a decadal survey, include the 2003-2006 Vision Mission studies71 (10 large solar system mission concepts selected for study) and the 2007-2008 Discovery and Scout Mission Capabilities Expansion program (nine small solar system mission concepts selected for study).72
- Convening dedicated workshops to facilitate public dissemination of already existing efforts. The two most recent and relevant examples of such activities are the 2016 Second Annual Ocean Worlds Meeting and the 2017 Planetary Science Vision 2050 Workshop. The former was designed “to foster cooperation between the oceanographic and planetary science communities for the exploration of ocean worlds and to test ideas and models for the emergence of life.”73 The latter was intended to “gather the leading experts in solar system planetary science and related disciplines, together with experts in space technologies, to identify potential science goals and enabling technologies that can be implemented by the end of the 2040s and would support the next phase of solar system exploration.”74
- Issuing focused requests for information(RFIs) to industry and academia. NASA has a history of issuing RFIs to the science and engineering communities for ideas concerning the planning of future missions. A recent example of the use of a RFI to gather technological input concerned the 2014 effort aimed at strengthening the communications infrastructure for future Mars missions.75 An example focusing on mission studies relates to the effort to identify Europa mission concepts costing less than $1 billion.76 Whereas the latter RFI was issued to gather ideas for possible low-cost options to execute Vision and Voyages science priorities for the exploration of Europa, it is conceivable that an RFI could be issued to gather input for the next planetary science decadal survey.
69 NASA, Science Mission Directorate, “NASA Research Announcement: Astrophysics Probe Mission Concept Studies,” Solicitation NNH16ZDA001N-APROBES, details available at https://nspires.nasaprs.com/external/solicitations/summary.do?method=init&solId=%7B96D40385-EB0D-6F649195-CE8B5555F9BD%7D&path=open.
70 See Astrophysics Probe Mission Concept Studies, “Selection Decision Document,” March 15, 2017, https://smd-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/science-red/s3fs-public/atoms/files/Probes_SDD_SIGNED_2017-Mar-15.pdf.
71 M.S. Allen, ed., NASA Space Science Vision Missions, Progress in Astronautics and Aeronautics, Volume 224, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Reston, Va., 2008.
72 NASA Science Mission Directorate, “ROSES 2007: Discovery and Scout Mission Capabilities Expansion Program,” Solicitation NNH07ZDA001N, details available at http://www.federalgrants.com/ROSES-2007Discovery-and-Scout-Mission-Capabilities-Expansion-10986.html.
73 See, for example, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, “2nd Annual Ocean Worlds Meeting,” 2016, http://www.whoi.edu/marinerobotics/2nd-annual-ocean-worlds-meeting.
76 NASA Science Mission Directorate, “RFI: Europa Mission Concepts Costing Less than $1Billion,” Solicitation NNH14ZDA008L, available at https://nspires.nasaprs.com/external/viewrepositorydocument/cmdocumentid=408487/solicitationId=%7BDE7E75A9-0ECD-6A5E-924B-B152194933F0%7D/viewSolicitationDocument=1/Europa%20RFI.pdf.