DEC 25, 2017 08:50 AM PST

NASA Selects Two Finalists for Upcoming Robotic Mission

NASA’s plans to explore the solar system even further through the New Frontiers program are starting to materialize. The United States-based space agency formally selected two concept finalists for an upcoming robotic explorer mission that should take place sometime in mid-2020’s.

One of those concepts, led by Cornell University’s Steve Squyres, is being called Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return (or CESAR for short). For this idea to work, a spacecraft would travel to a comet of interest known as Churyumov-Gerasimenko (A.K.A. 67P) and attempt to collect surface samples to be returned to Earth for analysis.

An artist's impression of the CESAR spacecraft probing comet 67P.

Image Credit: NASA

The other, led by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory’s Elizabeth Turtle, is being called Dragonfly. Rather than exploring comets, this mission would involve visiting one of Saturn’s moons of interest: Titan. Planetary scientists believe that Titan could have a habitable environment, and with that in mind, the focus of this mission would be to go there and look for traces of life, among other things.

"The New Frontiers program is really the premier program for our principal investigators, and indeed it's one of the most difficult programs to be selected for," noted Jim Green, the director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Related: NASA officially names the upcoming Europa mission

An artist's impression of the Dragonfly mission on Titan.

Image Credit: NASA

The European Space Agency’s Philae lander and Rosetta spacecraft already studied bits and pieces of comet 67P in the past, but the mission didn’t go as planned after Philae landed incorrectly and stopped functioning. CESAR might offer some much-needed insight about 67P, and perhaps even pick up where the ESA left off. More importantly, we could learn more about its composition and develop a better idea of what comets are actually like.

"Comets are among the most scientifically important objects in the solar system, but they're also among the most poorly understood," Squyres said. It’s hoped that CESAR could change that and expand our understanding of comets even further.

Related: New Horizons' next target could have a moon of its own

As for visiting Titan, Turtle plans to send a drone-like aerial vehicle to study various places of the distant world. It could capture measurements, snap a ton of photographs, and even discern surface composition.

"In this way, we can evaluate how far prebiotic chemistry has progressed in an environment that we know has the ingredients for life—for water-based life or potentially even hydrocarbon-based life," Turtle said. In short, it’ll either validate or disprove what we think we know about Titan, and we might even learn a little more than we bargained for.

Related: NASA's upcoming InSight mission planned for May of 2018

NASA’s next steps will be to decide whether CESAR or Dragonfly will make it to the launch pad. Both missions have the potential to boost our understanding of the solar system around us, so it should be interesting to see which one NASA will officially endorse when the time comes.

Source: NASA via Phys.org

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
AUG 01, 2018
Space & Astronomy
AUG 01, 2018
Exoplanet Habitability May Depend on the UV Light Emitted by the Host Star
Does the type of light being emitted by a host star impact the probability of life popping up on any of its orbiting exoplanets? Citing a study led by rese...
AUG 21, 2018
Space & Astronomy
AUG 21, 2018
Yes, There's Water Ice on the Moon
Researchers have continuously speculated that the Moon might harbor traces of water ice, but new observations conducted with NASA’s Moon Mineralogy M...
SEP 05, 2018
Space & Astronomy
SEP 05, 2018
Saturn's Atmospheric Hexagon May Tower Higher Than Initially Thought
Although NASA’s Cassini mission ended almost one full year ago, researchers continue to analyze the stream of data the spacecraft beamed back to us b...
SEP 26, 2018
Space & Astronomy
SEP 26, 2018
Do the TRAPPIST-1 Exoplanets Have What it Takes to Support Life?
Among all the extrasolar systems astronomers have discovered to date, the TRAPPIST-1 system is unquestionably one of the most intriguing. Orbiting the host...
OCT 17, 2018
Space & Astronomy
OCT 17, 2018
Do Magnetic Fields Influence Supermassive Black Hole Activity?
Black holes have long captivated some of the most brilliant minds in astrophysics, and despite all the space telescope observations astronomers have made o...
NOV 06, 2018
Space & Astronomy
NOV 06, 2018
Here's Where NASA Will Land its Martian InSight Mission Later This Month
In May, an Atlas V rocket blasted off from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base and lofted NASA’s InSight mission into space so that it could...
Loading Comments...