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NASA's Four Possible Planetary Missions Stretch Across the Solar System


Feb. 14, 2020

These missions travel to Venus, Io, and Neptune's Triton—but only two will be selected.
NASA has narrowed down to four planetary science projects, from which it will choose two missions to explore the distant reaches of our solar system.
Two of the missions would visit Venus, another proposes to visit Jupiter’s moon Io, while the final mission would be planned for Neptune’s moon, Triton.
In Thursday's press statement, the agency announced it will select the final two missions next year.
The solar system is calling, and we must go.
NASA has selected four proposed missions , spread out across the solar system, for further review in its hunt for the next big planetary science missions. Two missions would travel to Venus, a third to Jupiter's moon Io and a fourth to Triton, a moon of Neptune.
But only two of them will launch. The scientists behind these missions will each be given $3 million to refine their projects and create a Concept Study Report. Then, NASA will select the two winners next year.
Here is a quick breakdown of each mission and what it could me for planetary science and humanity's continued exploration of the solar system:
The Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble Gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus (DAVINCI+) mission aims to study Venus’ intriguing atmosphere . The spacecraft will race through Venus's famously thick atmosphere, gathering data about its composition as it closes in on the surface. It will also be snapping pictures along the way, giving us an unprecedented look at the planet’s rocky surface. The mission, led by James Garvin of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, would also include an imager that would snap pictures of the Earth’s mysterious twin planet.
The Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSTAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy (VERITAS) mission would also visit Venus , but with a different goal in mind. VERITAS would create a full geologic map of its surface and provide insight about the planet’s geologic history. VERITAS's resulting 3-D model of the Venetian surface would include elevation information collected through an on-board synthetic aperture radar. Ultimately, this information could finally answer several important questions about the planet, including whether Venus has plate tectonics or is volcanically active .
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory would manage the project, and JPL's Suzanne Smrekar would be the mission’s principal investigator.
Io Volcano Observatory (IVO)
Jupiter’ moon Io is the most volcanically active world in the solar system. The Io Volcano Observatory or IVO mission would seek to understand the geological plumbing that feeds these incredible eruptive features . The mission could deeply shape our understanding of the volcanic moon and help us learn more about how Jupiter’s tidal forces it.
The principal investigator of the IVO mission would be Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona in Tucson, but it would run out of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.
The TRIDENT mission, the farthest-reaching of the bunch, would head to Neptune’s moon, Triton . Thanks to images from Voyager 2, we know that Triton is a highly active world with lots of resurfacing and geyser-like plumes. Scientists believe Triton has the second youngest surface of any world in our solar system next to mission competitor, Io. Trident would map Triton in a single fly-by and provide data that could help researchers establish whether it has its widely hypothesized interior ocean after all. Voyager 2 took about 12 years to get to Triton, so we would be waiting for this data for a long time.
Louise Prockter of the Lunar and Planetary Institute and Universities Space Research Association would be the principal investigator, while NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory ensures that the mission runs smoothly as project manager.
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