NASA Shortlists Titan Quadcopter, Comet Sample-Return Concepts for 2020s Mission

Spacewatch: out-of-this-world drone with a Titanic task ahead

NASA Shortlists Titan Quadcopter, Comet Sample-Return Concepts for 2020s Mission

After NASA launched the New Frontiers program, these have become commonplace questions for all of the space nuts. That could give the team time, Turtle said, to "evaluate how far prebiotic chemistry has progressed in an environment where we know we have the ingredients for life". CAESAR would approach comet 67P for touch-and-go manoeuvres to regain two kinds of specimens: volatile and non-volatile substance.

"Comets are among the most scientifically important objects in the solar system, but they're also among the most poorly understood", said Cornell University researcher Steve Squyres, the lead investigator for the mission.

The Comet Astrobiology Exploration SAmple Return, or CAESAR, mission would circle back to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which was visited by the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft from 2014 to 2016. The spacecraft would separate its sample into different compartments for volatile and nonvolatile components, and its return to Earth would involve ditching its heat shield as it landed, after entering the atmosphere, to avoid overheating the sample.

Squyres noted that past studies have confirmed comets contain water as well as organic compounds that could serve as life's building blocks.

The most innovative #New Frontier option is called Dragonfly, which will consist of an aerial drone that will fly in the skies over Titan, a #Moon Of Saturn. That return capsule will be provided by the Japanese space agency JAXA, based on its experience with the Hayabusa asteroid sample return missions.

That mission, called the Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return, or CAESAR, would be managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

"That dramatically improves the chances for success for a very hard activity, which is grabbing a piece of a comet", he added. NASA said in a release.

"However, we can multiply the value of the mission if we add aerial mobility, which would enable us to access a variety of geologic settings, maximizing the science return and lowering mission risk by going over or around obstacles". Opportunity continues to operate, almost 14 years after landing. For ELSAH, more work is needed to avoid contamination so the mission can better detect potential life on Saturn's icy moon.

The selected mission will be the fourth in NASA's New Frontiers program, a series of principal investigator-led planetary science investigations that fall under a development cost cap of approximately $850 million. The mission would be very challenging because of Venus' high surface temperature and atmospheric pressure, Previous landers have lasted only a few hours due to the harsh conditions on the surface of Venus. "These are tremendously exciting missions".

"This is a giant leap forward in developing our next bold mission of science discovery", says Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

These missions aren't meant to be the really big stuff - nobody will be heading off to Proxima-b in the neighboring galaxy - but rather mid-sized projects that would be impossible for most scientists around the world, but which NASA can handle more easily.

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