DPS 35th Meeting, 1-6 September 2003
Session 41. Future Missions and Instruments
Poster, Highlighted on, Friday, September 5, 2003, 3:30-6:00pm, Sierra Ballroom I-II

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[41.09] Organics in the solar system and the Astrobiology Explorer (ABE) mission

S. A. Sandford, L. J. Allamandola, J. D. Bregman (NASA Ames), M. Cohen (UC Berkeley), D. P. Cruikshank (NASA Ames), C. Dumas (Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech), K. Ennico, T. Greene, D. Hudgins (NASA Ames), S. Kwok (University of Calgary - Canada), S. D. Lord (Caltech), S. C. Madden (CEA Saclay - France), C. R. McCreight, T. L. Roellig (NASA Ames), D. W. Strecker (Ball Aerospace), A. G. Tielens (Kapteyn Astronomy Institute - Netherlands), M. W. Werner (Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech), K. Wilmoth (NASA Ames)

The Astrobiology Explorer (ABE) is a proposed NASA/Mid-Explorer (MIDEX) space telescope mission that uses infrared spectroscopy to address outstanding questions in astrochemistry and astrobiology. ABE observations of approximately 1,600 objects will provide a powerful tool to understand the role of astrochemical evolution in astrobiology and in the creation and evolution of organics in the universe.

One of ABE’s principal tasks will be to obtain spectra of selected planetary bodies (asteroids, satellites of outer planets, Pluto, comets, etc.) to establish the most complete inventory of organic materials in the Solar System to date. Since small bodies such as asteroids and comets (and their fragments - interplanetary dust and meteorites), were the principal vehicles for delivering organic material on the young planetary surfaces of our Solar System, the study of asteroids and comets will receive particular attention. The observation of the primitive outer solar system bodies with ABE will permit the study of its prebiotic organic chemistry, and therefore to understand the origin (interstellar, proto-nebular, planetary), evolution, and types of organics found in the Solar System.

The mission will make fundamental scientific progress in understanding the formation and evolution of organics through the entire galactic cycle - from the molecular evolution in stellar outflows, the diffuse interstellar medium, and dense molecular clouds, and to the formation of stellar/planetary systems. ABE will also measure organic deuterium enrichment, as well as detect and identify organic compounds in many different galaxy types.

The current ABE design consists of a cryogenically cooled 60 cm diameter telescope and three spectrometers that cover the 2.5-20 micron range (the ideal window for probing the interatomic bonding of molecular species), at a spectral resolution of at least 2,000 with unprecedented sensitivity. The spacecraft will operate in an earth-drift away orbit and have a lifetime of approximately 1.2 years. ABE will significantly build upon the database provided by complementary observatories such as ISO, SOFIA and SIRTF, and will be a scientific precursor for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 35 #4
© 2003. The American Astronomical Soceity.