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Planetary Missions and Concepts

A new era in space exploration is starting with the arrival of SmallSat mission concepts, and Goddard is leading highly advanced CubeSat missions, that will provide transformational science in the exploration of our solar system (e.g., moon, Mars, Venus, comets, asteroids, moons) and beyond (e.g., exoplanets, astrophysics).

BOLAS: Bi-sat Observations of the Lunar Atmosphere above Swirls

Principal Investigator: Timothy Stubbs, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Co-Investigators: Michael R. Collier, William M. Farrell, John W. Keller, Jared R. Espley, Michael A. Mesarch, Dean J. Chai, Michael K. Choi, Richard R. Vondrak, Michael E. Purucker, & David C. Folta GSFC; Benjamin K. Malphrus, Aaron P. Zucherman, & Amanda N. Holbrook Morehead State University; Robert P. Hoyt Tethers Unlimited, Inc.; Michael Tsay Busek Co., Inc.; Jasper S. Halekas University of Iowa; Thomas E. Johnson & John D. Hudeck Wallops Flight Facility; Pamela E. Clark JPL; Georgiana Y. Kramer LPI; David A. Glenar, Jacob R, Gruesbeck, & Jason L. McLain University of Maryland; Shahab Fatemi IRF; Jan Deca UC Boulder
Overarching science goal: Determine the role of the solar wind in space weathering and the creation of water products on the surface of the Moon by investigating crustal magnetic fields and swirls.
Mission Overview: Tethered microsats targeting dual-point, vertically-aligned, low altitude measurements at the strong Gerasimovich crustal field.
  • Configuration: BOLAS deploys a 25 km-long, multi-line “Hoytether” between microsats enabling vertically-aligned, gravity gradient formation.
  • Architecture: Two similar microsats (~28 kg each), leveraging existing bus & miniaturized subsystems.
  • Instruments: Ion Spectrometers, Energetic Neutral Atom Imager, Plasma Wave Systems, Mini-magnetometers, & mini cameras.
  • Orbit: BOLAS center-of-mass in a highly stable, “frozen” orbit with periapsis around 30oS. At closest approach, BOLAS-L reaches 2 km altitude (lower than 12 km above Gerasimovich).
  • Mission lifetime: 1 year (desirable), 1 lunation (minimum).
Press release

CUVE: CubeSat UV Experiment

Principal Investigator: Valeria Cottini, University of Maryland, NASA/GSFC Planetary Systems Laboratory
Co-Is (alphabetical): S. Aslam, N. Gorius, T. Hewagama, G. Piccioni
CUVE is a 12U high-altitude orbiter in a polar orbit around Venus. It is a targeted mission, with a dedicated science payload and a compact spacecraft bus capable of interplanetary flight independently or as a ride-share with another mission to Venus or to a different target.
CUVE Payload includes:
  • 190-380 nm high resolution spectrometer
  • 320-520 nm contextual imaging spectrometer
CUVE Science Objectives are: insights on the nature of the "Unknown" UV-absorber; the abundances and distributions of SO2 and SO at and above Venus's cloud tops and correlation with the UV absorber; atmospheric dynamics at the cloud tops; and structure of upper clouds and wind measurements from cloud-tracking and nightglow emissions: NO, CO, O2.
Press release

Lunar Flashlight (to be launched in 2019)

Principal Investigator: Barbara Cohen, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Science team: Paul Hayne (UC Boulder), Ben Greenhagen (APL), David Paige (UCLA)
Understanding the composition, quantity, distribution, and form of water and other volatiles associated with lunar permanently shadowed regions (PSRs) is identified as a Strategic Knowledge Gap (SKG) for NASA’s human exploration program. These polar volatile deposits are also scientifically interesting, having potential to reveal important information about the delivery of water to the Earth-Moon system. Lunar Flashlight will detect and map the surface distribution of water ice within the permanently shadowed regions of the lunar south pole. The Lunar Flashlight 6U spacecraft has heritage elements from predecessor systems including JPL’s INSPIRE (INterplanetary NanoSpacecraft in a Relevant Environment), MARCO (MARs CubeSat One) and will demonstrate several technological firsts, including being the first CubeSat to reach the Moon, the first planetary CubeSat mission to use green propulsion, and the first planetary mission to measure reflectance at multiple wavelengths using active illumination from orbit. Polar volatile data collected by Lunar Flashlight will ensure that future exploration targets, for more expensive lander- and rover-borne measurements, would include volatiles in sufficient quantity and near enough to the surface to potentially be operationally useful. Lunar Flashlight is currently in development for launch in 2019 on the Space Launch System’s Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) flight. It is funded by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems (AES) program and implemented by a team from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Marshall Space Flight Center, and Goddard Space Flight Center.
Press release, payload design, expected performance, and interview with the PI.

MiLUV: Mini Lunar Volatiles Mission

Principal Investigator: Noah Petro, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
The six-unit MiLUV would detect water on the lunar surface using a laser spectrometer that traces its heritage to similar Goddard-developed lidar-type instruments built to map the topographies of Mars and the Moon. The instrument is an adaptation of successful planetary lidar systems flown on the Lunar Orbit Laser Altimeter and the Mercury Laser Altimeter. These instruments bounced laser light off the surfaces of the Moon and Mercury, respectively, and used the returning signal to map their topographies Like all chemicals, water absorbs light at specific infrared wavelengths. By carefully tuning the instrument’s detectors to those wavelengths — in this case, 1.6 and 3.0 microns — scientists would be able to detect and then analyze the level of water in the laser’s vertical path. The more water along the light’s path, the deeper the absorption lines.
Press release

PRISM: Phobos/Deimos Regolith Ion Sample Mission

Principal Investigator: Michael Collier, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Co-Investigators: Micah Schaible, William M. Farrell, David Folta, Kyle M. Hughes, John W. Keller, Ben Malphrus, Aaron Zucherman, Kevin Brown, Amanda Holbrook, Andrew S. Rivkin, Scott Murchie, Dana Hurley, Jasper Halekas, Pamela Clark, Richard Vondrak, Timothy Stubbs, Rosemary Killen, Menelaos Sarantos, Sarah L. Jones, Jared Espley, Gina Dibraccio, Michael Choi, and Michael Tsay
Because using the space environment to obtain direct samples of Phobos’ and Deimos’ composition to determine the origin of these satellites using secondary ion mass spectrometry can be accomplished with a single instrument, within a CubeSat form factor, on a relatively small budget, and with current technology, a CubeSat SIMS mission to Phobos and Deimos will provide the tremendous science return for very little investment The fluxes of sputtered ions from Phobos at an altitude of around 27 km are about 10-1000/cm2/s. Based on scaling published effective areas down to CubeSat form factors, these fluxes imply that between 0.01 and 1 counts per second per element will be observed. Even at a count rate as low as 0.01 Hz, this requires 106 s or a bit over ten days to accumulate sufficient counts in all species shown in the figure, easily achievable over the mission lifetime. Some species will achieve the necessary statistics in hours allowing compositional mapping of the surface and the red and blue units. The cubesat will get to the Mars system in about three and one half years and “orbit” the moons many hundreds of times.

PROME: Phobos Reconnaissance and Organics Martian Explorer

Principal Investigator: Geronimo Villanueva, NASA/GSFC Planetary Systems Laboratory
Co-Is: T. Hewagama, N. Gorius, S. Aslam, T. Hurford, M. Smith, M. Mumma, C. Nixon
The main scientific objectives of PROME are: 1) Obtain detailed mapping of the Phobos surface, characterizing the volatile/organic and minerological composition; 2) were Phobos and Mars formed in-situ? Captured outer body?; 3) For future human-exploration, are there any surface reservoirs of water-ice on Phobos?
PROME Payload includes:
  • UV/Vis Hyperspectral (0.45–1 um)
  • IR hyperspectral (2.5–5 µm)
  • Multispectral with 4 SWIR/MWIR strategic channels
This mission concepts relies on highly matured technologies: Lunar IceCube; leverage of GSFC New-Horizons and CubeSat instruments (BIRCHES, ComCAM: Multispectra/Hyperspectral optics); TIMERS focal plane components (TRL>6), and strong heritage from GSFC IRADs.

PrOVE: Primitive Object Volatile Explorer

Principal Investigator: Tilak Hewagama, University of Maryland, GSFC Planetary Systems Laboratory
Co-Is (alphabetical): S. Aslam, F. Châteauneuf, P. Clark, L. Feaga, D. Folta, N. Gorius, T. Hurford, M. Keidar, T. Kostiuk, T. Livengood, B. Malphrus, M. Mumma, C. Nixon, and G. Villanueva
The Primitive Object Volatile Explorer (PrOVE), a 6U CubeSat mission, would perform a close flyby of a Jupiter-family comet. The PrOVE mission would (1) investigate chemical heterogeneity of a comet nucleus by quantifying abundances of volatile species and how they change with solar insolation, (2) map the spatial distribution of volatiles and determine any variations, and (3) determine the frequency and distribution of outbursts. Such measurements uniquely probe the origin of the nucleus, and the formation and evolution of our Solar System.