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NASA Space

Europa Selected As Target of Next Flagship Mission 168

Posted by samzenpus
from the my-favorite-moon dept.
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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Europa Selected As Target of Next Flagship Mission

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  • No! (Score:5, Funny)

    by obeythefist (719316) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @10:02PM (#26911399) Journal

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

  • 2001 (Score:4, Funny)

    by jaavaaguru (261551) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @10:04PM (#26911417) Homepage

    Watch out for the monolith!

    • by AgentSmith (69695)

      Watch out for the monolith!

      AAAAAHHHHHH!!! MONOLITH!!

      *splat*

      Ugh. I got monolith all over the windshield.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    "alltheseworlds" or "monolith"
  • awww no landing? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wizardforce (1005805) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @10:13PM (#26911485) Journal

    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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MichaelSmith (789609)

      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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by oldspewey (1303305)

        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

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by man_ls (248470)

          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.

        • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Iron Condor (964856)

          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.

          • 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.

      • by Rei (128717) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @01:21AM (#26912887) Homepage

        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!

    • 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 su

    • Re:awww no landing? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @10:45PM (#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? (Score:5, Informative)

      by volcanopele (537152) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @10:51PM (#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.

      • 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 f

  • Eleven Years? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by macraig (621737) <mark.a.craig@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @10:24PM (#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 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by snooo53 (663796) * on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @10:34PM (#26911635) Journal
      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 (Score:5, Insightful)

        by volcanopele (537152) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @10:54PM (#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.

        • It wasn't just MPL that did it. There have been a string of Mars failures -- in addition to other, lower-profile failures -- that have shown that the "faster, better, cheaper" mantra is rather optimistic. Bigger missions with more eyes and more checks in place are more resilient to failures and more capable of bouncing back when something goes wrong, which needs to be factored into the budgeting calculus.

      • Re:glacial pace (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Grishnakh (216268) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @11:12PM (#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 (Score:4, Informative)

          by DerekLyons (302214) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (retawriaf)> on Thursday February 19, 2009 @01:25AM (#26912905) Homepage

          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.

          • Why? In case one goes boom, there are backups.
          • by Grishnakh (216268)

            I wasn't thinking of sending all 10 probes to the same place, but instead on different missions. There's a lot of other planets and moons we haven't fully explored yet. It just seemed that if you made a lot of copies, you could do all that at once. But your point about testing/QA/assembly costs and operating costs is a good one.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by windsurfer619 (958212)

          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...

          • by Grishnakh (216268)

            Coming from the commercial world, I never really thought that the rocket scientists had much to say about it. I'm an engineer, and my experience has been that managers make all the decisions, which are frequently stupid and wrong. For instance, in my current job, my company leads our certain industry niche (a commercial semiconductor application), but it's fast eroding because our competitors are catching up. We only have one product out, which is full of bugs (we laid off the design team for cost-cuttin

      • 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 succe

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Iron Condor (964856)

        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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by frieko (855745)
      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? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by macraig (621737) <mark.a.craig@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @11:01PM (#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? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by SoupIsGoodFood_42 (521389) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @06:17AM (#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.

          • by macraig (621737)

            That's the beauty of mass production and the inherent standardization, dude: it doesn't matter that it's over-engineered for some occasions, because in practice the mass production paradigm will still make it cheaper than any continual one-off design process. The elimination of the expense of repeated design cycles - the standardization - more than makes up for any excesses the standardized design represents in some missions.

            (The sad truth is that much of that value of mass production, for humanity as a wh

      • Re:Eleven Years? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by jamstar7 (694492) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @11:02PM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DerekLyons (302214)

          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? (Score:4, Informative)

          by savuporo (658486) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @02:52AM (#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? (Score:5, Informative)

      by ZankerH (1401751) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @10:54PM (#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.
      • by macraig (621737)

        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? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @10:54PM (#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? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Grishnakh (216268) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @11:25PM (#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? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 19, 2009 @12:25AM (#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.

          • by Grishnakh (216268)

            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: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by DerekLyons (302214)

          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 Marin

        • Re:Eleven Years? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by iamlucky13 (795185) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @06:02AM (#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.
      • 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?

      • by johannesg (664142)

        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

    • by tverbeek (457094)
      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? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by macraig (621737) <mark.a.craig@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Thursday February 19, 2009 @12:53AM (#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.

        • by Kjella (173770)

          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. O

          • Nope. Unless the Alien species literally spit on our faces and blew apart our cities, we would NOT, repeat NOT start investing in Space.
            Because, the bankers would get to them before the scientists.
            And before you know, that poor alien world would be hit with Derivatives and a mortgage scandal of truly galactic proportions.
            Inspite of Obama's speeches, money spent on Science is $76 million less than 1% of the total proposed bailout.
            I only hope that the Alien book "How to serve man" is NOT a cookbook.
            But if it

        • 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.

          It's human nature and it roughly translates to "if it works, don't fix it". I believe the gross of humans would NOT undertake anything without the perception the action would result in "more pleasure" or "less discomfort". Mostly discomfort is a basic motivator in doing anything, it's nearly instinctual that we ex

        • Humans have advanced on this planet more than any other species ever has. We cover ALL OF IT. And in a relatively short period of time. Heck, we may even manage to wipe ourselves out BECAUSE of how fast we have moved. If you look at relatively recent history, we actually are moving quickly. We first got to the moon 40 years ago. And we are about to go back there. This is one of the HARDEST AND MOST EXPENSIVE TRIPS TO DO IN HISTORY. Even the searches by Europe, China, or Vikings did not cost close to this re
        • by 4D6963 (933028)
          So let's see, the dream of your lifetime was to move to the middle of a complete desert, where the sky is always black, even during sunsets, which take place only once a month anyways. Call me a buzz killer, but I'm pretty sure that living in the middle of a completely desertic place, with no one around, no vegetation or fauna or atmosphere and month-long days must quickly lose its novelty effect. Did I mention the awful pings? Besides getting a nice look of Earth, you know, where all the fun is it, I fail
          • by macraig (621737)

            Your response sounds unpleasantly trollish; I would mod you that way myself if I had the ability. Your response was also shortsighted and unimaginative, perhaps deliberately so. And FWIW, having "no one around" sounds pretty damned awesome to me. I'd rather that be in some warm tropical place here, but since that's only possible now for insanely rich fuckers, I have to settle for what I can get without having to be an insanely rich fucker myself, which would violate my values even if it satisfied my desi

            • by 4D6963 (933028)
              My response seemed necessary though. Everybody's always been dreaming of going to the Moon like it's the bee's knees, but what's really so good about it? Sure, it sounds great to go where you thought you couldn't go before, furthermore when it's a distant place in the sky, but once you're there, ask yourself, is it really worth it, and if so, why? I don't see what's so unimaginative about my point of view by the way, I find it rather reasonably down to Earth, so to speak, but feel free to elaborate on what'
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by More_Cowbell (957742) *

      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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @11:14PM (#26911999)

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

    • by MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @12:30AM (#26912533)

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

      ... our mission to find intelligent life continues.

    • ...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".
    • The metric system strikes again!

  • 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!
  • Really? (Score:3, Funny)

    by poity (465672) on Wednesday February 18, 2009 @11:57PM (#26912285)

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

    • by Spatial (1235392)
      Joking, but for the record it's named after the figure in Greek mythology, and so is Europe itself.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by gslj (214011)

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

      You may be joking, but actually the Europeans chose a planet named after a pretty girl. So, as you say, who didn't see this coming? (Europa's the one that Jupiter came to in the form of a bull. Europe's named after her, not the other way around).

      -Gareth

  • by MemoryDragon (544441) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @04:59AM (#26914109)

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

  • Parallell missions (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ZeroExistenZ (721849) on Thursday February 19, 2009 @09:07AM (#26915261)

    To me it's frustrating to see these missions come into being, with a decade in between, and have a slow evolution in spaceexploration.

    Why don't they start multiple missions, in short continious bursts, running through eachother, so we have in a decade a faster pace in exploration, and have data pooring in faster, shorten the development cycles, and gain greater experience in the process?
    More modular crafts, maybe a higher failure rate, but greater experience and a list of issues to take it account. It would limit cost in the long run, missions wouldn't have such a binary outcome persé ("if failure, we'll have to redesign and wait another 10 years again").

    I'm not an US-citizen, but I wouldn't mind to have my taxmoney carry the financial weight in an international effort to do something like that.

    • Good idea. But someone already thought of this. As I write this I think NASA has about a dozen on-going missions right now and about a dozen more in the pipeline. They've been following you suggestion for about the last 50 years.

      I work in the space launch business and we are bussy with one average of more then one launch per month. Many are military but there are a fair number of NASA and commercial launches too.

  • With missions taking two or three decades, many current scientists will be dead by then.

Theory is gray, but the golden tree of life is green. -- Goethe

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