I'm 49 and will be 50 in January. With the success of New Horizons, being the first humans to ever see Pluto is mind blowing, I was wondering if I/we will ever see a probe or exploration of Uranus and Neptune? Are there any plans for exploring these two planets in the near future?
It seems like Europa, Titan, Io, and Enceladus could keep trumping Uranus and Neptune plans for decades. Titan, certainly, has merit comparable to Mars for repeated generations of missions, except the cruise time is unfortunately much longer so the iterations would have to be ~decadal instead of biennial, and the same may be said of Europa.
I just posted about the incredible capabilities expected of the EELT when it comes online in Chile c. 2024. Boasting 16 times the resolution of HST, it could view the Uranus system with about half the resolution that HST can image Mars. That could perform some pretty nice science from the ground. In the case of Uranus, that's particularly nice because the axial inclination means that the full range of seasons/latitudes could only be observed by a long-life orbiter, while something on the ground can sit and wait for the opportunities as they come.
I'm hoping for the same thing, but am guessing other things will get more attention and money, unless mission costs come way down somehow (AI, robot manufacturing, nanosatellites, laser sails, who knows...). I'm about the same age so have another 40 years or so to see what happens.
But here are some proposed Uranus/Neptune orbiters anyway, with some possible launch dates -
Uranus Orbiter and Probe (JPL), launch 2025
MUSE (Mission to Uranus for Science and Exploration) (ESA), launch 2026
ODINUS (Origins, Dynamics, and Interiors of the Neptunian and Uranian Systems) (ESA)
Dual Uranus and Neptune orbiters, launch 2034
Some more info -
I like the idea of using more powerful telescopes with adaptive optics to image them, e.g. Uranus from Keck in 2004 - http://www.keckobservatory.org/images/made/images/press_images/3_3_800_623.jpg (from http://www.keckobservatory.org/recent/entry/keck_pictures_of_uranus_show_best_view_from_the_ground), and Hubble - http://cdn.spacetelescope.org/archives/images/screen/opo9736a.jpg (from https://www.spacetelescope.org/images/opo9736a/).
And the JWST...
I've been playing with the Voyager 2 images of Uranus and Neptune - I figure that'll be the closest thing to visiting them again for a while (eg some rough Uranus movies - http://www.unmannedspaceflight.com/index.php?s=&showtopic=8215&view=findpost&p=231787).
I hope I'm around too, but turning 70--so I need to have data coming back by 2036 if I make it to 90 (with luck), 2046 if I make it to 100 (not too likely).
Recent material on mission studies for Uranus and Neptune.
Fact chart on the Oceanus mission:
More comprehensive presentation on the status of mission studies done at JPL:
I just hope to see one of these missions in my lifetime. These are amazing worlds in the own right.
Slide 15 of the second PDF is rather amusing, with the comically large panels; thanks for the links though!
Well might as well post this here, too. Was our Planetary Science School study of a Neptune flyby mission. Went through Team X.
Presentation on TRIDENT student exercise study for a Neptune mission that was presented at the Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG).
Full article (Alibay et al., IEEE) is available on ResearchGate: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264229163_Design_of_a_low_cost_mission_to_the_Neptunian_system
(at the time of the study, we only had an Atlas 551 launch vehicle available. We tried for an orbiter mission, but in the end had to settle for a flyby mission trying to keep under a $1B cost cap.)
Any update about studies around Uranus / Neptune mission? Is there any hope such mission will be launched till, lets say, 2030 ?
I cannot imagine noone (any space agency) is not interested in sending a probe to these two celestial bodies. The Voyager data are just nothing more than a tip of the iceberg...
Meanwhile it seems there will be .... 3 missions to Europa...
you may want to check presentations and finidings of the latest OPAG meeting
I would hope that the several newer national space programs will start to carve out niches for themselves, exploring some places that are otherwise being ignored. For the time being, it's not surprising that these programs have sent a few missions to the Moon and Mars, but perhaps they'll branch out to plant their metaphorical flag somewhere they can be first. But Uranus and Neptune aren't easy targets to start with, and don't provide a speedy payoff in terms of PR and national pride.
The outer solar system has several remarkable targets competing for few launches with very long cruise times. Uranus and Neptune could get bumped by other priorities for a long time. In the meantime, the capabilities of Earth-based telescopes are improving dramatically, and those two planets themselves will be monitored remotely more or less continuously from now on. The satellites, however, are hard to resolve without a dedicated mission.
Imho there is no other option than sending dedicated orbiter (or even a lander) to the uranian / neptunian system. You will never get such dramaticaly high quality photos of Uranus' moons using earth-based hardware. Moreover, many in-situ "investigations" give much more answers than pointing the telescope localised on Earth.
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