Robotic return trip to comet and drone exploration of Titan, are NASA finalists for future missions

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  Last updated January 24, 2018 at 4:56 pm


The CAESAR (Comet Astrobiology Exploration SAmple Return) mission would acquire a sample from the nucleus of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, returning it to Earth.
Credits: NASA

A return trip to a comet to pick up samples and a drone-like rotorcraft that would explore potential landing sites on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan are the two finalist concepts in NASA’s competition for a robotic mission in the mid-2020s.

The concepts were chosen from 12 proposals submitted in April.

“This is a giant leap forward in developing our next bold mission of science discovery,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, say in a media release.

“These are tantalising investigations that seek to answer some of the biggest questions in our solar system today.”

The first concept, the proposed Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return (CAESAR) mission, seeks to return to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which was explored by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft.

This new visit though is planned asa return voyage, with the spacecraft bringing back samples that could help determine the comet’s origin and history.

CAESAR was designed by a team led by Steve Squyres of Cornell University in New York, and would be managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Dragonfly would take advantage of the environment on Titan to fly to multiple locations to sample materials and determine surface composition.
Credit: NASA

The second finalist is the project Dragonfly, a drone-like aircraft that would explore the prebiotic chemistry and habitability of dozens of sites on Saturn’s moon Titan.

Its lead investigator is Elizabeth Turtle from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), with APL providing project management.

AS finalists, both projects will receive funding to the end of 2018 to further develop the concepts.

NASA will select one in early 2019 to continue on to subsequent mission phases.

The selected mission will be the fourth in NASA’s New Frontiers portfolio, a series of principal investigator-led planetary science investigations.

Its predecessors are the New Horizons mission to Pluto and a Kuiper Belt object known as 2014 MU69, the Juno mission to Jupiter, and OSIRIS-REx, which will rendezvous with and return a sample of the asteroid Bennu.

NASA has more about its New Frontiers Program and missions here.

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