European scientists are invited to come forward on a mission that will only happen “once in a lifetime.”

European scientists are invited to come forward on a mission that will only happen “once in a lifetime.”

NASA's next large-scale mission will focus on Uranus. Although Europe has not yet been invited to participate, some scientists hope that is the case, because such an opportunity may not occur again.

As part of large strategic science missions, also known as major missions, the United States has its eyes on the seventh planet in the solar system: Uranus.

What are NASA's big strategic science missions?

These specific NASA missions are simply ones that represent too big a budget. In fact, the cost of these very special missions far exceeds $900 million.

These are the ones put forward by NASA, the US space program and the government because “They produce significant scientific benefits and are essential to maintaining U.S. global leadership in space exploration and science[…]“As we can read in Annual report of the Council for Space Studies 2017 (Council for Space Studies Annual Report 2017).

This leadership is due in particular to the financial and technological means developed by the United States, as well as the availability of highly qualified personnel.

These specific missions are categorized into NASA's four main business areas:

  • Astrophysics (Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra X-ray Observatory, James Webb Space Telescope, etc.)
  • Earth Sciences (Terra, Aqua, Aura, Joint Polar Satellite System, etc.)
  • Solar physics (Solar Dynamics Observatory, Magnetosphere Multiscale Mission, Parker Solar Probe, etc.)
  • Planetary sciences (Voyager 1 and 2, Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity, Perseverance, etc.)

Future mission Uranus orbiter and probe (Uranus Probe and Orbiter), so this latest area of ​​work is entering at an estimated cost of more than $2.5 billion.

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What will the mission consist of? Uranus orbiter and probe ?

The seventh planet in the solar system, Uranus is four times larger than Earth but is also the coldest planet on record, he said Cnes.

Located about 2.3 billion kilometers away, just over 15 times the distance between Earth and the Sun (15 astronomical units), it is an icy giant whose axis of rotation is tilted more than 90 degrees against Earth. In other words, it is as if the planet is “rolling” in its orbit.

Uranus' atmosphere consists mainly of hydrogen and helium. To a lesser extent, it also contains methane and ammonia.

If Saturn is known for its rings, then Uranus has them too. Very dark, there are 13 of them, and they are made of rocks and dust. There are 27 satellites in orbit around it.

Most importantly, most of the information we have collected about Uranus dates back to January 24, 1986, when Voyager 2 left Earth on August 20, 1977, and flew overhead.

Since this flyby, no new information has been collected about the planet.

That's the whole point of the mission. Uranus orbiter and probe : Set off again to “attack” the frozen giant to uncover its mysteries.

As its name suggests, the mission will carry an orbiter and a probe that will penetrate its atmosphere.

The mission is scheduled to launch in the early 2030s, and should begin in earnest about 10 years later, when the ship reaches the planet.

Uranus orbiter and probe : A task that only happens “once in a lifetime”

Therefore, in light of this information and much more, Olivier Moses, professor of astrophysics at the University of Aix-Marseille, and Robin Canopp, the American astrophysicist, launched an appeal to Europe with a special editorial.Why should the European Space Agency join the US mission to Uranus?(Why the European Space Agency should join the US mission to Uranus) published in the magazine nature On May 20, 2024.

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In their paper, the two scientists urge the European Space Agency (ESA) to request a partnership with NASA to participate in the Uranus mission:

The absence of European participation in a pioneering, perhaps once-in-a-lifetime mission would also harm the broader scientific community, engineers and technicians involved in space exploration across Europe who have a strong interest in interplanets and the search for extraterrestrial life. .

The two scientists are also determined to show that the two agencies have indeed collaborated before on a mission of this size. Indeed, between 1997 and 2017, the European Space Agency and NASA participated in the mission Cassini-Huygens Which was a space mission to explore Saturn and its system.

Thanks to the European Space Agency's Huygens probe, we were able to discover the soil composition on Titan, one of Saturn's moons.

Hence, this will not be the first time that the two agencies are undertaking such an important mission.

Especially since Olivier Moses and Robin Canup also insist on the participation of the European Space Agency in the mission Uranus orbiter and probe It can allow it to be completed on time, but also without exceeding the huge budget already allocated to it.

Finally, this is not the first time that Olivier Moses has made beacon communications for the European Space Agency (ESA) to participate in a mission to Uranus. In fact, the astrophysics professor previously mentioned this possibility in 2019 in an interview with CNRS As well as in a special conference organized in Marseille.

It remains to be seen whether the European Space Agency will respond.

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source : Watchman / nature

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