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Europa Selected As Target of Next Flagship Mission

samzenpus posted more than 5 years ago | from the my-favorite-moon dept.

NASA 168

volcanopele writes "NASA and the European Space Agency announced today that they have selected the Europa/Jupiter System Mission as the next large mission to the outer solar system. For the last year, the Europa mission has been in competition with a proposal to send a mission to Saturn's moon Titan, as reported on Slashdot earlier. The Europa Mission includes two orbiters: one developed by NASA to orbit the icy moon Europa and another developed by ESA to orbit the solar system's largest moon, Ganymede. Both orbiters would spend up to 2.5 years in orbit around Jupiter before settling into orbit around their respective targets, studying Jupiter's satellites, rings, and of course the planet itself. The mission is scheduled to launch in 2020 and arrive at Jupiter in 2025 and 2026."

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Europe ftw. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26911387)

Go team Europe!

Re:Europe ftw. (1, Insightful)

macraig (621737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911763)

Cooperation is why this mission is happening at all, but competition is the reason why it's taking eleven freaking years to get off the ground... if budget cuts or other competitive bickering don't bench it before it gets to the launchpad.

Huygens (2, Interesting)

Kagura (843695) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912099)

Please, please launch a landing probe similar to the Huygens Probe. There won't be any atmosphere, so you'll have to use retrorockets. Impact probes won't cut it. ;)

Re:Huygens (5, Interesting)

AtariKee (455870) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912373)

Steve Squyres [tripatlas.com] of the Mars Rover mission won't be in on this one, but about ten years ago on BBC's The Planets [bbcshop.com] series, he discussed designing a lander/sub mission to Europa. The lander would melt through the ice, turn into a sub, and start exploring the ocean beneath.

While I'm optimistic that this will happen someday, I'm sad that I won't see it in my lifetime.

Why not? (4, Funny)

r00t (33219) | more than 5 years ago | (#26913057)

While I'm optimistic that this will happen someday, I'm sad that I won't see it in my lifetime.

Do you have some sort of terminal illness? Are you thinking of killing yourself? Did you publish something negative about Putin?

Maybe you'll make it.

We can rebuild you. We have the technology. Better than you were before. Better, stronger, faster.

No! (5, Funny)

obeythefist (719316) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911399)

All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there.

Re:No! (4, Funny)

wonmon (1214678) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911425)

All these worlds are yours, except Europa. Attempt no landing there.

First post together. First post in peace.

Re:No! (4, Funny)

adavies42 (746183) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912145)

i see the 2010 fan is still reading /.

Re:No! (1)

ubergeek2009 (1475007) | more than 5 years ago | (#26913285)

awesome book, I haven't seen the movie yet.

2001 (3, Funny)

jaavaaguru (261551) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911417)

Watch out for the monolith!

Needed tags... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26911423)

"alltheseworlds" or "monolith"

Re:Needed tags... (3, Funny)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911461)

How about "icantdothatdave"

All these worlds are yours... (-1, Redundant)

techmuse (160085) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911455)

Except Europa. Attempt no landings there.

2025 and 2026? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26911469)

Aren't we supposed to have FTL by then? Those orbiters will be ancient tech. Absurdly obsolete and completely redundant.

*Hops into car and flies to Titan to visit the in-laws*

awww no landing? (4, Interesting)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911485)

An orbiter is nice but getting down to the surface and exploring on Europa its self is I believe, infinitely more informative than setting up shop in orbit. After all, the data we have on the moon suggests that it has an extensive conductive salty ocean underneath its surface that may have life swimming around vents that could exist in that ocean's floor like Earth.

Re:awww no landing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26911551)

Call me idiotic, but I wonder if they have ever tried TAKING bacteria/virii/small creatures to these places? You kow, the types that live in inhospitable (to humans) conditions on Earth, like sulphur springs on the ocean floor. We might not find anything on these planets/moons, but couldn't we fertilize them?
I'm pretty sure that these creatures/bacteria/virii won't die before they reach their destination. I remember reading/hearing about how they go into a hibernation-like state where they can survive for decades.
Any suggestions as to why what I said above would make me dumber than a fifth grader?

Re:awww no landing? (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911721)

Any suggestions as to why what I said above would make me dumber than a fifth grader?

Yes.

Re:awww no landing? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26912071)

Yes.

go on, I'm listening. Same AC as before, but I really want to know what is fundamentally wrong with the idea (apart from the "It will kill anything that might be alive already there" argument - which as humans, we seem perfectly willing to do on our own planet).

Re:awww no landing? (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912149)

And you wanna repeat that mistake everywhere else and poison the well so we can't ever resolve the life-is-not-unique argument? How about you wait until AFTER we've answered that question before you go about terraforming and pillaging every other rock in sight?

Re:awww no landing? (3, Interesting)

Kagura (843695) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912157)

Because we want to discover alien life, not life that has evolved from earth. I would not be impressed with finding that earth extremophiles can adapt to alien moons. I would, however, be rather thrilled at learning that non-earth-origin life had been more-or-less definitely found.

Re:awww no landing? (1)

Kagura (843695) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912165)

Not to mention, any life we bring there likely wouldn't be able to evolve an interesting amount on reasonable time frames, so there doesn't seem to be any major reason to do this.

Re:awww no landing? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26912425)

I see nothing wrong with it. So long as they use my sperm. I'm just saying.

Re:awww no landing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26912855)

I see nothing wrong with it. So long as they use my sperm. I'm just saying.

Your sperm that no count as a living organism.

Re:awww no landing? (3, Insightful)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911823)

How bout we check them out and see if there's life already there first before we go about trying to terraform them?

Re:awww no landing? (1)

Thiez (1281866) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912175)

Tell me, why exactly would we want to send 'virii' to a rock in space?

Re:awww no landing? (2, Insightful)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911559)

An orbiter is nice but getting down to the surface and exploring on Europa its self is I believe, infinitely more informative than setting up shop in orbit. After all, the data we have on the moon suggests that it has an extensive conductive salty ocean underneath its surface that may have life swimming around vents that could exist in that ocean's floor like Earth.

Nobody really knows how to get to the ocean. It is certain to be many kilometers down. Having said that some seismic data would be handy. Its a pity we can't drop a simple lander on this trip with an impactor to generate a signal. Maybe an accurate laser altimeter would tell us about the interior?

Re:awww no landing? (2, Insightful)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912407)

There have been proposals ... one of the more interesting ones involves a surface lander that also has a detachable probe along with a small thermonuclear generator. The nuke probe heats the ice and begins to melt its way downward, trailing a communication cable behind to connect with the surface probe. The ice refreezes above the probe as it descends.

Even if the (surmised) liquid ocean is several kilometres down, the probe will reach it eventually. As an added bonus, by using a radioactive heat source, any "hitchhiker" microbes of earthly origin are neatly sterilized before the probe comes in contact with the liquid below.

Re:awww no landing? (3, Interesting)

man_ls (248470) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912571)

What if there is life under there, but it's never been exposed to radiation before? We've basically dropped a pile of deadly toxic waste onto another planet that might have life on it.

Re:awww no landing? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912637)

There have been proposals

Yeah I know but I think they base their assumptions on Arthur C Clarke books rather than the few facts we know about Europa.

Re:awww no landing? (2, Insightful)

Iron Condor (964856) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912937)

There have been proposals ... one of the more interesting ones involves a surface lander that also has a detachable probe along with a small thermonuclear generator. The nuke probe heats the ice and begins to melt its way downward, trailing a communication cable behind to connect with the surface probe. The ice refreezes above the probe as it descends.

...thereby freezing the communications cable in place, thereby preventing the probe from getting any further down. Pity.

Re:awww no landing? (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 5 years ago | (#26913091)

the probe has a spool of the cable inside of the main body, it doesn't need to drag the cable along with it, just hold it taught moving on down. there is however obviously a limited amount of that cable so if the ocean is farther down than we think or it hits the rock equivalent of an iceberg then its doomed.

Re:awww no landing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26914275)

I think the cable would be wound and spooled inside the probe, preventing that from being an issue.

Re:awww no landing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26914551)

The nuke probe heats the ice and begins to melt its way downward, trailing a communication cable behind to connect with the surface probe. The ice refreezes above the probe as it descends.

...thereby freezing the communications cable in place, thereby preventing the probe from getting any further down. Pity.

Put the cable spool on the under-the-ice end, rather than the above-the-ice end. Pretty.

Anybody but me horribly disappointd by the choice? (3, Informative)

Rei (128717) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912887)

I mean, come on. The Titan mission had an nuclear sterling engine powered orbiter that was going to fly through the plumes of Enceladus with special equipment to study, was going to drop a floating lander with an illuminated video camera into a known Titan sea that could look for floating matter, waves, and detect prebiotic and even biochemistry going on in the liquid, and a Montgolfier nuclear-hot-air-balloon that would study the organic chemistry going on in the atmosphere, make detailed maps of the surface (studyin things like cryovolcanoes and alluvial channels), and after the initial mission completed, likely make low passes right over the surface.

How could they pick this really unimpressive Europa mission over that? Aaargh!

Re:Anybody but me horribly disappointd by the choi (2, Interesting)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 5 years ago | (#26913159)

How could they pick this really unimpressive Europa mission over that? Aaargh!

The Titan mission looks very risky to me. I think that might have been a factor.

Re:Anybody but me horribly disappointd by the choi (1)

More_Cowbell (957742) | more than 5 years ago | (#26913353)

This is exactly what I came here to say (though not as articulately, I've had a few drinks). Did they not watch their own videos? Sadly I don't have much constructive to add, other than a wholehearted agreement with your stance.

Re:awww no landing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26911583)

Sorry, you'll have to wait until 2061 for the landing.

Re:awww no landing? (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911595)

An orbiter is nice but getting down to the surface and exploring on Europa its self is I believe, infinitely more informative than setting up shop in orbit. After all, the data we have on the moon suggests that it has an extensive conductive salty ocean underneath its surface that may have life swimming around vents that could exist in that ocean's floor like Earth.

I agree that ultimately going to Europa is important, but sending an orbiter ought to give us a lot more detailed information. Hopefully the successes and limitations of Cassini in probing Enceladus will inform this new mission as to how we can go about trying to more deeply probe bodies with thick icy crusts with potential oceans beneath.

Re:awww no landing? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26911767)

The probe will have a radar that will at least be able to characterize the ice and the ocean beneath it. As well as a number of other instruments. There is a bunch of information on this mission at this link: http://sci.esa.int/science-e/www/object/doc.cfm?fobjectid=44038

Re:awww no landing? (5, Informative)

volcanopele (537152) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911821)

An orbiter is needed before you send a lander for a few reasons. First, our global map of Europa is pretty rough, with only 13% of Europa was imaged at resolutions better than 1 kilometer. That is not good enough if you want to find a good spot to land on. While Europa may have a reputation for having the smoothest surface in the solar system, at the meter-decameter scales (on the size order of a lander), Europa is quite rough, with tectonics grooves criss-crossing the surface and no erosion to wear these features down. So high resolution imaging is need to find relatively smooth areas where it would be safe to land (global coverage at pixel scales of 100 meters is planned for the Jupiter Europa Orbiter with 1-10% coverage at 10 meters per pixel of targets of particular interest).

Secondly, an orbiter is needed to determine the thickness of the ice shell, which is important if you want to access the ocean. Designing a mission that needs to dig down through 2-5 km of ice is quite a bit different than digging through 20-30km. Plus, an orbiter might be able to find areas where the shell is thinner, further helping later lander developers pick a landing site.

Under the ice! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26912519)

I agree, and I really hope they revise the mission to include at least some sort of landing, as I'm sure its what most people are interested in.

However, penetrating the ice would be next to impossible as it's estimated to be 3-4 km thick. Sure we will probably get more useful data from a satellite , but I see no reason we cant do both.

What I really want to know is whats below the ice. I was thinking about how to do this, cause you just cant penetrate 4km of ice through a kinetic impact and have anything survive.

My idea is to have a lander that uses a small nuclear reactor as a power source. However, the cooling mechanism is external. The reactor is not powered on until it has landed on the surface of Europa. Once landed, its powered up and used to generate thermal energy and over the next few weeks, it melts its way through the 4km layer of ice.

It would use gravity and heat to penetrate the ice and work its way to the oceans below. Its a simple idea that doesn't depend on drills or huge kinetic forces, or moving parts making it reliable.

The major problem with this idea is of course the political problems with a nuclear reactor in space. I think that we need to agree on using nuclear technology in space (because it is undeniably the best option), and what better time than now?

What I want is a definitive answer about whether there is an ocean below that ice, and if so, what is there. Can you imagine images shot from below the ice of Europa? As much as we know and as far as we have explored, those are the kinds of images we have never seen.

Eleven Years? (5, Insightful)

macraig (621737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911575)

Jeez, when it takes eleven years to get even an unmanned mission like this off the ground, I have to wonder if we meatsack critters ourselves are ever gonna make it off again. Certainly not in my lifetime, I guess. I have a hard time accepting that unmanned mission design is still this hard, even after all the missions that have preceded this one! Shouldn't we have off-the-shelf components and some semblance of a mass-production system for them by now?

glacial pace (5, Interesting)

snooo53 (663796) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911635)

Mod parent up! It's cool and all that they're doing a Europa mission, but it's a disappointment to see the arrival dates that far in the future. The glacial pace at which these big missions take place is frustrating to say the least. What ever happened to "faster, better, cheaper"?? If only NASA could get an 800 billion "bailout"!

Re:glacial pace (0, Offtopic)

macraig (621737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911701)

I'd mod you up for recognizing a wise thought when you see one, but as it happens I've already commented in this discussion.

Re:glacial pace (4, Insightful)

volcanopele (537152) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911845)

What ever happened to "faster, better, cheaper"??

Mars Polar Lander happened. If you actually want to perform comprehensive science at these targets, you actually need to spend money.

In other words, you can have two out of three of "faster, better, cheaper", but not all three at the same time.

Re:glacial pace (1)

SailorSpork (1080153) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911863)

Well, the thing about "Faster Better Cheaper" is that you can only have two. Frequently with NASA, we rarely get more than none, and generally when we do get one, it's "cheaper" that ends up blowing up astronauts trying to launch or land.

Unfortunately, it's hard to mass-produce when we're only building one every few years. By the time we'd want a mass-produced part, it's technologically obsolete.

Re:glacial pace (4, Interesting)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911983)

This is a good point, I think. If you look at some of the early NASA probes to Mercury and Venus, they were essentially copies of each other, or very similar, and shared many parts.

The other poster's point about design becoming technologically obsolete is correct, but underscores this person's point in a way: instead of just launching one mission at a time, these space agencies need to make 5-10 copies at a time, and launch them all around the same time (or within a few years). Sure, it wouldn't make sense to try to use 70s or 80s technology on a probe now, but if they were launching 10 or even 50 of them within the next 3 years, then they could easily take advantage of some economies of scale. Whenever building something like this, the first one is always the most expensive, and after that the incremental cost is much cheaper. So they're really missing out by not making copies.

Re:glacial pace (3, Informative)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912905)

Whenever building something like this, the first one is always the most expensive, and after that the incremental cost is much cheaper.

Not as much as you might think. While development does run up a hefty bill, assembly does too because of the enormous amount of testing, verification, and QA involved in actually building the components and then assembling them into a spacecraft. Actually operating the probes runs up a hefty bill too - and one with near zero economies of scale.
 
 

instead of just launching one mission at a time, these space agencies need to make 5-10 copies at a time, and launch them all around the same time (or within a few years)

Why? For most science goals, you'll get the same amount of science from 10 probes as you would from one - you'll just get it earlier and pay a hell of a lot more to do so. You won't actually get more science.

Re:glacial pace (1)

Stormwatch (703920) | more than 5 years ago | (#26913521)

Why? In case one goes boom, there are backups.

Re:glacial pace (2, Interesting)

windsurfer619 (958212) | more than 5 years ago | (#26913411)

Tell me, is it cheaper to make one probe to orbit Europa for 3 years, or make two probes that orbit for 1.5 each? Maybe these scientists have already thought about economics of scale, and have decided to put all their eggs in one basket. After all, they are rocket scientists...

Re:glacial pace (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26913707)

launch them all around the same time (or within a few years)

I can tell you it just plain doesn't work that way. Launches usually have to be timed to coincide with convenient positions in planetary orbits, or your billion dollar orbiters just fly off into the cosmos. So even if they could prep multiple probes at once, most of them probably would be sitting on the shelf for a long time before they ever had an opportunity to see use.

Re:glacial pace (1)

CheshireCatCO (185193) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912779)

What ever happened to "faster, better, cheaper"??

What happened is you can only have two of the three (to be glib about it). In reality, faster, cheaper, better works better for some missions than others. The Mars program seemed well-suited to that mantra (which was never really NASA policy as much as Golden's slogan for the public), but large, flagship-classes missions are *not* fast or cheap by their nature. They can do things than small, cheap missions can't, though.

Remember, "faster, cheaper, better" brought us the Mars failures as well as the successes. It'd be a real drag for a similar disaster to befall the Europa mission after years getting there.

Re:glacial pace (2, Insightful)

Iron Condor (964856) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912971)

What ever happened to "faster, better, cheaper"??

It omits the fourth free parameter: risk. Systems engineering operates in a four-dimensional envelope: Cost, Scope, Schedule, Risk.

Tinker with any three of these at the cost of the fourth.

Re:Eleven Years? (2, Insightful)

frieko (855745) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911797)

Every rock in the solar system has a different temperature, light insolation, and gravity. Given the different conditions, designing a 'standard' probe would be like designing a deep-sea submarine that could also climb Mount Everest.

Re:Eleven Years? (4, Insightful)

macraig (621737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911907)

I think your statement oversimplifies some obvious truths to the point of absurdity. Certainly there will always be SOME components that have to be custom creations, but there should be others that would readily lend themselves to off-the-shelf modularity and mass production. Craft that simply make passes and orbits, as these are intended to do, would lend themselves most readily of all to that modularity compared, to, say, the Mars rovers.

Standardization of key components should be a key goal in further missions. Emulating Charles Babbage's design philosophy at this stage is likely to doom us to permanent residence here.

Re:Eleven Years? (3, Insightful)

SoupIsGoodFood_42 (521389) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914507)

Craft that simply make passes and orbits, as these are intended to do, would lend themselves most readily of all to that modularity compared, to, say, the Mars rovers.

How do you know that orbiters don't required quite different fundamental designs depending on the mission? For some missions you could end up with something that is over engineered and therefore more expensive. And how do you know that the custom parts aren't still taking up the most costs? I think the variety of missions and a low frequency of them make F1 cars look mass-produced in comparison.

Re:Eleven Years? (4, Interesting)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911917)

The basics don't change. You need a vehicle to deliver a probe. That means, fuel, engines, guidance system, computers, communications. These can be standardised. Landers need to be custom, but an orbiter needn't be.

Re:Eleven Years? (2, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912361)

The basics don't change. You need a vehicle to deliver a probe. That means, fuel, engines, guidance system, computers, communications. These can be standardised. Landers need to be custom, but an orbiter needn't be.

Sure, the basic of a Jupiter orbiter don't change. Nor do the basics of a Mars orbiter. But a Mars orbiter isn't a Jupiter orbiter - the orbital environments are wildly different, as the grandparent said... it's like designing a deep sea submarine that can also climb Mt. Everest.

Re:Eleven Years? (3, Informative)

savuporo (658486) | more than 5 years ago | (#26913435)

"The basics don't change. You need a vehicle to deliver a probe."
Yup, its commonly called "spacecraft bus" and its indeed commonly reused design for comsats but also for some planetary orbiters. ESA Mars Express and Venus Express shared a common bus and a few other pieces for instance.
However there are limits on how far you can take the commonality. For inner solar system, moderately-sized solar array works as a power system, for outer solar system it doesnt. Cooling requirements change with the distance from the sun, radiation environments change etc.

Re:Eleven Years? (5, Informative)

ZankerH (1401751) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911847)

The departure date depends primarily of favourable launch windows (proper planetary alignment that allows for low-energy transfers). It's not because it takes ten years to plan and put together the mission. Sure, we could launch the thing tomorrow (or as soon as we put it together), but it'd take several times more energy to reach it's destination, which means more powerful rockets, if a powerful enough one exists. Keep in mind that most of the modern interplanetary probes are launched with the same rockets that launch commercial satellites to geostationary orbits, which is quite a few orders of magnitude closer than Jupiter.

Re:Eleven Years? (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911931)

Ah, good point. I had not considered launch windows at all. Hopefully they don't actually spend that entire eleven years applying the Babbage philosophy of design to it! They could get it done in two or three and move on to designing other missions well in advance.

Re:Eleven Years? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26911849)

IAARS (I am a rocket scientist), and I am sad to say that 11 years is actually pretty fast for this type of mission. Jupiter has been visited before, certainly, but generally we only swing through. Just the radiation (which is extreme) is a major engineering problem. Standard electronics simply do not function in that high a radiation environment, so a lot of custom ICs and such are required. Just maintaining data on the hard drive is difficult!

Jupiter is also hugely difficult in terms of design because solar arrays generally don't provide enough power that far out, so RTGs (radioisotope thermoelectric generators) are generally the preferred option for the outer solar system. If I recall correctly, we launched our last RTG in stock on Cassini, and the US hasn't been building any more, mainly because of public concern about "nuclear power in space and there an apocalypse."

There are a host of other problems, of course. The bottom line is that even in LEO there is no mass production system, except perhaps for a single constellation like GPS. Every mission is very different, and every mission has different objectives, environments, and everything else. It is so expensive to get into space that there is no slack in any of the metrics for the inefficiencies that come with mass production of a given piece of space hardware. That goes doubly so for outer solar system missions.

The industry and academia have been talking for years about building common buses and things, and some companies do sell components and even the bus (the core of the S/C, sans instruments), etc, but it still hasn't really been realized for LEO. It will probably never be realized for outer planet missions because the instruments are exceptionally complex and the environment incredibly challenging.

Re:Eleven Years? (5, Interesting)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912069)

IANARS, but I've read many Wikipedia articles about the earlier NASA and USSR probes to Mecury, Venus, etc. It seems to me that those missions were faster (or at least no slower) than 11 years in planning, and there were a lot more of them. And that was way back before they had ICs like we have now.

And for mass production, I really don't see why certain parts can't be modularized. The problem of sending a probe to orbit a distant moon is the same whether it's Titan or Europa or Charon. Some details will be different, which is why you'd want modularization, so you can put some different instruments on the different probes to suit its particular mission requirements, but the bulk of the craft should be the same.

From Wikipedia's page on the Mariner program for instance: "All Mariner spacecraft were based on a hexagonal or octagonal "bus", which housed all of the electronics, and to which all components were attached, such as antennae, cameras, propulsion, and power sources." This was back in 1962, before ICs. The page doesn't say, but I'm pretty sure they didn't start the Mariner program in 1951.

There were 10 Mariner probes in all, with 7 being successful, launched over 10 years, all using the same basic parts and chassis. Mariners 11 and 12 turned into the Voyager probes, meaning those also benefited from the Mariner design and probably shared a lot of parts.

The industry and academia have been talking for years about building common buses and things, and some companies do sell components and even the bus (the core of the S/C, sans instruments), etc, but it still hasn't really been realized for LEO. It will probably never be realized for outer planet missions because the instruments are exceptionally complex and the environment incredibly challenging.

So NASA was able to design and successfully produce a common bus and chassis for 10+ years' worth of Mariner probes, back in 1962, but they can't do it now in 2009, almost 50 years later? Something about that doesn't seem right to me.

Re:Eleven Years? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26912497)

IANARS, but I've read many Wikipedia articles about the earlier NASA and USSR probes to Mecury, Venus, etc. It seems to me that those missions were faster (or at least no slower) than 11 years in planning, and there were a lot more of them. And that was way back before they had ICs like we have now.

And for mass production, I really don't see why certain parts can't be modularized. The problem of sending a probe to orbit a distant moon is the same whether it's Titan or Europa or Charon. Some details will be different, which is why you'd want modularization, so you can put some different instruments on the different probes to suit its particular mission requirements, but the bulk of the craft should be the same.

From Wikipedia's page on the Mariner program for instance: "All Mariner spacecraft were based on a hexagonal or octagonal "bus", which housed all of the electronics, and to which all components were attached, such as antennae, cameras, propulsion, and power sources." This was back in 1962, before ICs. The page doesn't say, but I'm pretty sure they didn't start the Mariner program in 1951.

There were 10 Mariner probes in all, with 7 being successful, launched over 10 years, all using the same basic parts and chassis. Mariners 11 and 12 turned into the Voyager probes, meaning those also benefited from the Mariner design and probably shared a lot of parts.

The industry and academia have been talking for years about building common buses and things, and some companies do sell components and even the bus (the core of the S/C, sans instruments), etc, but it still hasn't really been realized for LEO. It will probably never be realized for outer planet missions because the instruments are exceptionally complex and the environment incredibly challenging.

So NASA was able to design and successfully produce a common bus and chassis for 10+ years' worth of Mariner probes, back in 1962, but they can't do it now in 2009, almost 50 years later? Something about that doesn't seem right to me.

The key thing to keep in mind here is MONEY.
NASA was spending a lot more money in the 60s and into the 70s than they are now.

The reason it takes so long is that they're trying to keep costs down. The crash programs of the 60s were very expensive in comparison to more recent science probe missions.

Mariner 1-10 cost $554 Million
http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraftDisplay.do?id=MARIN1

Which comes out to roughly $3.75 Billion adjusting 1962->2007 dollars for inflation.

Voyager's total cost was $865 Million
http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/didyouknow.html

Which adjusted for inflation 1972->2007 is roughly $4.2 Billion.

The Viking missions cost $935 Million in 1974 dollars, translating to $3.9 Billion in 2007 dollars.
http://solarviews.com/history/SP-4212/ch8-6.html

For comparison, Mars Pathfinder cost $150 Million in 1997 dollars. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Pathfinder

Mars Phoenix Mission was around $420 Million
http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/05/26/america/mars.php

The overriding them here is that we're spending much less money on this kind of thing that we used to, so the brute force method doesnt work as well.

Can you imagine NASA spending 1/5th of it's annual budget on a deep space probe at this point in history? I cant.

I also would argue strongly against the assertion that mass production of space probes is a good idea. The instruments on these craft are mostly one-offs and must be rigorously qualified. Mass production makes sense when you need something in numbers. It doesnt really make sense to make a large number of identical probes when unique probes that must probes that must flawlessly perform a specific task under harsh conditions are what is required.

Anyway, I just think it's important to keep the numbers in perspective here. We're not spending money on science like we used to. Like not even close.

Re:Eleven Years? (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912643)

That's a pretty good point there. But it still seems like it wouldn't cost that much to make an extra copy, just in case something goes wrong as it did with that Mars probe (forget the name now, the one that crashed due to units confusion).

Re:Eleven Years? (1)

amygdalae (1049862) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912883)

But I think since we're in one-off land, it would cost nearly double and maybe more since the burden on the development team would be to create 2 one-off sets of qualified hardware and meaningful (enough for congress to agree to pay for it) mission profiles should both probes succeed and backup plans for either if one fails. The failure rate was alot higher in the 60s (3 out of 10 Mariners failed) but I'm guessing that all the backups and multi-craft mission profiles & logistics was probably where alot of the money was going. I have a relative involved with JPL who apparently to this day gets teased about the unit conversion related failure of the Mars Polar Orbiter as being a sign that NASA is sleeping on the job. In fact all of the mission specs from NASA clearly dictated use of metric units for the project but Lockheed effed up and used english units for a couple of things. Unfortunately NASA has taken most of the blame for this, but it was really a massive prime contractor mistake. Also should mention that the mission was $125 Million which is chump change compared to the old school probe missions.

Re:Eleven Years? (2, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912947)

It seems to me that those missions were faster (or at least no slower) than 11 years in planning, and there were a lot more of them.

And they were a hell of a lot simpler with much more modest science goals.
 
 

So NASA was able to design and successfully produce a common bus and chassis for 10+ years' worth of Mariner probes, back in 1962, but they can't do it now in 2009, almost 50 years later? Something about that doesn't seem right to me.

Mostly because you wrongly assume the 10+ years of Mariner probes used a common bus and chassis. They didn't. There were some similarities in the structure, but that's about it, don't read too much into that one sentence from Wikipedia.

Re:Eleven Years? (3, Interesting)

iamlucky13 (795185) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914449)

The missions back in those "good old days" of space travel were much simpler both in scope, technical complexity, and duration. The longest of the Mariner missions, for example, was about 8 months, and it was only collecting data for a small fraction of that. We've already learned most of what we can (or at least what we can justify the cost of a launch for) with those simpler missions. This new Europa mission is going to be big. Even in physical size it will dwarf those old transistorized tin pots. NASA calls missions like this "Flagship" class. They are few, far between, and generally bring in floods of new information. This mission is on the scale of Voyager and Cassini.

Even back in the Voyager days, when the rocketry and resources (developed in the lull between Apollo and Shuttle) to launch such a mission were newly available, close visits to any of the planets beyond Mars were completely unprecedented, and NASA was anxious get underway it took five years. Cassini was first proposed 15 years and approved I think 10 years before it launched. Now that there's minimal hurry and a lot of other things to share the annual budget with, so the timeline is more like that for Cassini. The taxpayers don't want to pay out more per year, and besides, Europa isn't expected to go anywhere in the meantime.

As mission complexity and cost grows, getting the most out of it becomes increasingly important. You can't achieve that with a generic bus because it limits the instrumentation you can hang on it. Instead you tailor the bus to the power, thermal, geometric, stabilization, and other needs of all this really expensive and fancy instrumentation. If you need a 3-axis stabilized, nuclear-powered spacecraft with a large contiguous cavity for a big telescope like Cassini, you can't make effective use of a solar-powered spacecraft bus designed to be spin stabilized and provide a mount for a radar and a long magnetometer boom like Juno.

Instrumentation is another thing. Back in the Mariner days, they were generally taking the best instruments currently coming out of the labs and figuring out how best to use them for the mission. Lately, it's been more typical to examine what you want to know, what technically should be possible, and do the research, development, design and testing of an instrument optimized for its mission. As a result, science package development is often a primary pacing and budgeting concern for exploration missions these days.

Lastly, those ten Mariner probes in ten years were being concurrently developed, not one after the other. I'm not sure how many missions NASA had active or in development at any given time back in the 60's and 70's, or how much money was devoted to them. Right now, however, I'm aware of 13 solar system exploration missions currently operating, and five or six more in development. I'm really not sure how many earth and deep space observing missions there are (Hubble, Spitzer, Chandra, GALEX, WMAP, OCO, JWST, etc). All of these consume (I count 60+ total on NASA's website) consume less than a quarter of NASA's budget. It's rather impressive in the grand scheme of things.

Re:Eleven Years? (1)

oldspewey (1303305) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912465)

solar arrays generally don't provide enough power that far out, so RTGs (radioisotope thermoelectric generators) are generally the preferred option

Just a random thought, but if I'm not mistaken Jupiter has one badass magnetosphere ... and if you move some kind of coil through a magnetic field at high speed you can generate quite a bit of electricity ... surely some of you rocket scientist types have given this some thought WRT missions to Jupiter?

Re:Eleven Years? (1)

johannesg (664142) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912595)

There are a host of other problems, of course. The bottom line is that even in LEO there is no mass production system, except perhaps for a single constellation like GPS.

Sorry, but that's just not true. Telecom satellites are being mass-produced, it is only the large, expensive, and very unique scientific spacecraft that use non-standard parts. And then only for those instruments: many of the other parts (entire buses, but also smaller parts like solar panels, power conditioners, star trackers, computers, propulsion systems, etc.) are off the shelf components these days.

We are already getting to the point where you can simply plug in different simulations of specific parts during the design phase, and quickly make a trade off between comparable components from different manufacturers in that way.

Re:Eleven Years? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26913343)

The bottom line is that even in LEO there is no mass production system, except perhaps for a single constellation like GPS.

Ahem... Spartan?

The Spartan Project Develops New Carriers [nasa.gov]

 

Spartan spacecrafts are designed to provide easy access to Earth orbit via the Space Shuttle for flying science experiments. Spartan uses proven technologies to provide a relatively inexpensive route to space for the scientific community. This is accomplished using basic carriers which, with the addition of a science experiment, become a complete spacecraft capable of fulfilling the science objectives of each mission. Spartan missions support stellar, solar, or Earth fine-pointing experiments, experiments requiring microgravity, and experiments requiring space environments away from the Space Shuttle.

And it was actually flown a few times too...=)

Goddard Projects Directory Search for Spartan [nasa.gov]

Re:Eleven Years? (1)

eadon-com (630323) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912415)

Precisely! Launch window opportunities aside, NASA is unable to function IMHO. The voyager space probes and their generation showed how to do it. Yet these days interplanetary exploration is slower than ever. Why? Possibly because of Parkinson's observation that bureaucracy will expand and work with it, and that committees become deeply inefficient if they contain more than 19 people. (and 8 people, but that's an aberration). It is depressing that billions are sunk into funding banks, and from a NASA perspective, a pointless orbiting "space" station. Yet the real joy of space exploration, that of visiting the outer gas giants and their planets is neglected. We should be sending many probes to Jupiter, Saturn, Titan, Uranus and Neptune right now.

Re:Eleven Years? (1)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912447)

It's a bit sobering to realize that we're talking about a mission for which I had to stop for a few seconds to figure out whether I'll still be alive when it's completed.

For the record, I'll be in my early 60s. So... probably.

(Not that a negative answer would mean it wouldn't be worth spending money on. Future generations deserve their own Apollos, Voyagers, and Vikings.)

Re:Eleven Years? (4, Insightful)

macraig (621737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912693)

I grew up firmly convinced that I was going to be in one of the first waves to emigrate from this rock. How could I not think that after seeing Armstrong thump onto the moon when I was still a little kid? How could I anticipate how far backward our stupid human frailties would make us slide? It's been very depressing for me to have to relinquish that expectation. Looking at the big picture of my life, that single thing was a significant reason for my loss of faith in humanity (and it's been downhill ever since). While there are INDIVIDUALS who possess the vision, AS A SPECIES we completely lack any vision or direction. There simply is no prescriptive Big Picture, not even a Five Year Mission. Humanity has let me down.

Maybe the Star Trek mythos is more correct than Roddenberry realized: it seems that we will in fact need a serious kick in the pants, as a species, from Vulcans or something else just as epiphanal. I wish I wasn't just joking about being a Vulcan Tourist.

Re:Eleven Years? (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914495)

Maybe the Star Trek mythos is more correct than Roddenberry realized: it seems that we will in fact need a serious kick in the pants, as a species, from Vulcans or something else just as epiphanal. I wish I wasn't just joking about being a Vulcan Tourist.

If an alien species visisted earth, then you can bet your ass we'd start a science and space program that'd make Apollo seem like slump change to figure out how that is at all possible. The thing is that even if we assumed a best case, that we discover ancient life on Mars and Europa, if we build a lunar base, a mars colony, the space elevator and orbiting space stations, even if we build vast telescopes to peer into other solar systems and find little blue balls with water, we don't know how to go there. Oh, the voyager probes will get there in 70,000 years or so even though they died 69,950 years before arriving but the scope of sending an actual spaceship to operate in deep space for millenniums is just so incredibly far off, and even highly theoretical anti-matter drives don't travel at anywhere near warp speed. That's the missing piece, the real belief that could go on to explore the galaxy, not just to hopscotch around our back yard. Being generation #13 aboard a cramped generation ship, never to leave the ship, never to see a sunrise or sunset and everything running in conservation mode to get where you're going - there's just no way you can sell that.

Re:Eleven Years? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26912539)

When I was researching this last year, NASA was debating whether to send the Europa mission in 2015 or 2017. I don't know what happened that made them push it back another three years.

I also found that the Russians were planning on sending a lander to Europa in the 2020s.

Re:Eleven Years? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26912943)

11 years?.
To go to Europa it only took 3 and a half hours with the Concorde.

Re:Eleven Years? (2, Insightful)

More_Cowbell (957742) | more than 5 years ago | (#26913421)

Shouldn't we have off-the-shelf components and some semblance of a mass-production system for them by now?

I would posit that spaceX [spacex.com] is among the first to attempt just that. I for one have been rooting for their success, as I think they can bring a revolution of sorts that is sorely needed in the field.

Manned mission (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26911629)

For a brief moment, I assumed the article was about a "manned mission".
Since we've barely spent any time on the moon or set foot on mars yet, I was about to praise NASA for suddenly growing some huge balls.

Re:Manned mission (1)

Donut Zeke (1085279) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911729)

I don't know about you, but I want my fucking moonbase. Ever since I was little, I've been assaulted with ideas of manned bases on the moon. Which is totally fucking badass. Now where are they?

Better mark this on my calendar. (1)

castorvx (1424163) | more than 5 years ago | (#26911673)

Right after my 40th birthday.

Yikes.

Re:Better mark this on my calendar. (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26912393)

no one gives a fuck about you bitch. obama's dick will be in your ass soon enough and you'll know the power of black. fucking honky.

Ne4? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26911759)

all over America$ aashole to others

Unfortunately (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26911999)

Due to a typo the mission was programmed to land in Europe instead.

Re:Unfortunately (5, Funny)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912533)

Due to a typo the mission was programmed to land in Europe instead.

... our mission to find intelligent life continues.

In related news... (1)

Gazzonyx (982402) | more than 5 years ago | (#26913025)

...due to a metric/standard conversion glitch, it landed at 320 M/sec^2. :)

The french have reportedly surrendered and the English plan on nuking the crater from orbit, just to be sure. A few Russians were overheard saying, "... it's still got nothin' on Sputnik!", while the Scotish blamed it all on the Welsch who, in turn, blamed the Irish, who dared both to "bring those fightin' words down to the pub".

Re:In related news... (1)

tpheiska (1145505) | more than 5 years ago | (#26913669)

...due to a metric/standard conversion glitch, it landed at 320 M/sec^2. :)

I think it landed roughly at 9.780327 m/sec^2 but the impact velocity was 320 m/s. (additional nitpicking: m, not M).

schedule (1)

alxkit (941262) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912037)

The mission is scheduled to launch in 2020 and arrive at Jupiter in 2025 and 2026.

we're all looking forward to THAT, greg.

Booo! (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912111)

I've been dreaming about a remote sub mission under the ice. Probably the best shot in the solar system for complex life. Screw poking around for microbes!

Re:Booo! (1)

NotmyNick (1089709) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912197)

I've been dreaming about a remote sub mission under the ice. Probably the best shot in the solar system for complex life. Screw poking around for microbes!

The problem is the ice. There's kilometers of it to get through not meters. You're going to need some serious power and probably a revolution in remote drilling technology.

But yeah, a sub on(in) Europa would be supercool. No pun intended.

Re:Booo! (1)

Kagura (843695) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912265)

What about a drill bit heated by radioactive decay? It would automatically orient itself and melt down through the ice. The only issue is, how do you get a cable that far? Leave a base station, and put the spool on the drill/probe itself? Seems like a rather workable idea, although the engineering issues of conducting this on an alien world are steep.

Re:Booo! (1)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912847)

Last I read, if you time your mission right, you can land on the fissures where the ice is melted and get through much faster. As sibling states, you're definitely melting your way through, not drilling.

we got out nigger in office (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26912221)

now you honkies will get a boot in your ass. jews and whites will become the next slaves to the africans and muslims.

hillery is over in the holy land as we speak sucking on some arab nutsack. shaking the same hands that beheaded american soldiers.

Really? (2, Funny)

poity (465672) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912285)

European Space Agency picks the planetoid named after Europe? Who didn't see this coming?

Europa Strike (2)

Timoleon (1225804) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912353)

What a coincidence --- I'm reading "Europa Strike" by Ian Douglas right now. I just *know* there's something pinging under those methane seas, and we must meet our destinies and go find it!!! Damn the torpedoes and full steam ahead! We must get the white whale! Whoops, wrong book...

FuCkc. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26912607)

about half of the though I have never demise#. You don't

2012? (1)

hydromike2 (1457879) | more than 5 years ago | (#26912781)

they better launch them before december 2012 if they ever want them to get there, even at that its not like anyone will be around to study the data with the world coming to an end and all.....

Re: Europa Selected As Target of Next Flagship Mis (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26912825)

I hate to be the person to bring all of this talk back down to "Earth", but shouldn't we be helping U.S. citizens before we launch a millions-dollar-plus probe to a moon that we will not be able to visit? Mars is a somewhat viable option with the tech that we have today (and astronauts willing to give up years of their lives to get there, and "maybe" get back). Do we need to spend money (you know scientists don't work for free, right?) to look at sending a satellite worth millions to a moon of Jupiter...to find what? With today's tech, we could barely get to it in a lifetime, only to find what? What is so important with Europa, outside of the fact it's been used in many sci-fi FICTIONAL novels. If we can't make it to Mars, why bankrupt NASA and the American economy to fund a project like this. Plan for it now, and spend the money when we are all making better money.

Let's see how will I be..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26913731)

2020?2026?! Bah hum bug! Space takes too long

Cost cutting measures? (2, Funny)

MemoryDragon (544441) | more than 5 years ago | (#26914109)

After all a trip to Europe is cheaper than a trip to the moon ;-)

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