37th DPS Meeting, 4-9 September 2005
Session 18 Future Missions and Instrumentation
Poster, Monday, September 5, 2005, 6:00-7:15pm, Music Lecture Room 5

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[18.01] A NEPtune/Triton Vision Mission Using Nuclear Electric Propulsion

B. Bienstock, D.H. Atkinson (University of Idaho), K. Baines (JPL), P. Mahaffy (NASA GFSC), S. Atreya (University of Michigan), A. Stern (Southwest Research Institute), P. Steffes (Georgia Institute of Technology), M. Wright (NASA ARC), Ball Collaboration, Boeing Collaboration

The giant planets of the outer solar system divide into two distinct classes: the ``Gas Giants" Jupiter and Saturn, and the ``Ice Giants" Uranus and Neptune. While the Gas Giants primarily comprise hydrogen and helium, the Ice Giants appear fundamentally different, containing significant amounts of the heavier elements including oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, and sulfur. Comparisons of the internal structure and overall composition of the Gas and Ice Giants will yield valuable insights into the processes that formed our solar system and possibly extrasolar systems. By 2012 detailed studies of the chemical and physical properties of Jupiter and Saturn will have been completed by the Pioneer, Voyager, Galileo, Cassini, and Juno missions. A Neptune Orbiter with Probes mission would deliver the corresponding key data for an Ice Giant. Such a mission to study Triton, Nereid, the other icy satellites of Neptune, Neptune's system of rings, and the deep Neptune atmosphere to pressures ranging from several hundred bars to possibly several kilobars has been studied. Power and propulsion would be provided using nuclear electric propulsion (NEP) technologies. This ambitious mission requires a number of technical issues be investigated and resolved, including: (1) developing a reasonable mission design that allows proper targeting and timing of the entry probe(s) while offering adequate opportunities for Triton, small icy satellite, and ring science, (2) giant-planet atmospheric probe thermal protection system (TPS) design, (3) deep probe design including pressure vessel, seals, windows, penetrations and inlets, (4) deep probe telecommunications through Neptune's dense and absorbing atmosphere, 5) Triton lander design to conduct extended surface science, and (6) defining an appropriate suite of science instruments for the Orbiter, Probes and Landers to explore the depths of the Neptune atmosphere, magnetic field, Triton, and the icy satellites utilizing the ample mass and power budgets of the NEP architecture.

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 37 #3
© 2004. The American Astronomical Soceity.