||2001 News Releases
NASA Selects Two Investigators for Pluto-Kuiper
Belt Mission Feasibility Studies
June 6, 2001
Pluto with its slightly smaller moon, Charon.
In the first step of a potential two-step process, JPL is
included in two proposals selected by NASA for detailed
mission feasibility studies as candidates for a Pluto-Kuiper
Belt (PKB) mission to explore the only planet in our solar
system yet to be visited by a spacecraft from Earth.
The President's FY 2002 budget request does not contain
development funding for a Pluto mission. The Congress
requested that NASA not do anything precipitous which would
preclude the ability to develop a Pluto-Kuiper mission until
the Congress could consider it in the context of the FY 2002
budget. If funding is provided in the FY 2002 budget and
either proposal is ultimately selected, the agency could down-
select a proposal for development to ultimately fly a
spacecraft to Pluto and beyond. If a PKB mission is developed,
launch would be in the 2004-2006 time frame and the spacecraft
would arrive at Pluto before 2020.
"The PKB mission represents a possible opportunity to
visit the only planet not yet explored by spacecraft," said
Dr. Colleen Hartman, Pluto Program Director in NASA's Office
of Space Science, Washington, D.C. "It's really an opportunity
to, in a sense, look into a deep-freeze of history which could
tell us how our solar system evolved to what it is today,
including the precursor ingredients of life."
Each proposal team will receive $450,000 to conduct a
three-month concept study. At the end of the three months,
NASA will thoroughly evaluate program content and technical,
schedule and cost feasibilities of both proposals to determine
if either is selectable.
The two selected proposals were judged to have the best
science value among the five proposals submitted to NASA in
April 2001 in response to the Pluto-Kuiper Belt Mission
Announcement of Opportunity. Each selected investigation will
work with the Office of Space Science at NASA Headquarters to
finalize the design of the spacecraft and its accommodation of
the instrument sets.
The selected investigations are:
Pluto and Outer Solar System Explorer (POSSE). Dr. Larry
Esposito, Principal Investigator, University of Colorado,
Boulder, will lead a team including the following major
participants: JPL, Pasadena, Calif.; Lockheed Martin
Astronautics, Denver; Malin Space Science Systems, Inc., San
Diego; Ball Aerospace Corp., Boulder, Colo.; and University of
New Horizons: Shedding Light on Frontier Worlds. Dr. S.
Alan Stern, Principal Investigator, Southwest Research
Institute, Boulder, Colo., will lead a team including the
following major participants: Johns Hopkins University Applied
Physics Laboratory, Laurel, Md.; Ball Aerospace Corp.;
Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif.; NASA's Goddard Space
Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. and JPL.
Both proposals are for complete missions, including
launch vehicle, spacecraft and science instrument payload.
Both address the major science objectives defined in the
original announcement. Each proposal includes a remote sensing
package that includes imaging instruments, a radio science
investigation, and other experiments to characterize the
global geology and morphology of Pluto and Charon, map their
surface composition, and characterize Pluto's neutral
atmosphere and its escape rate.
Pluto is a different kind of planet. It is not a rocky
planet like Earth, Mars, Mercury or Venus, or a gas giant like
Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus or Neptune. It is a Kuiper Belt
Object, a class of objects composed of material left over
after the formation of the other planets, which has never been
exposed to the higher temperatures and solar radiation levels
of the inner solar system.
It is known that Pluto has large quantities of ices of
nitrogen, and simple molecules containing combinations of
carbon, hydrogen and oxygen that are the necessary precursors
of life. These ices would be largely lost to space if Pluto
had come close to the Sun. Instead they remain on Pluto as a
representative sample of the primordial material that set the
stage for the evolution of the solar system as it exists
today, including life.
If a PKB mission is developed, it will be a principal
investigator-led investigation, bringing together teams from
academia, industry, NASA centers and other communities, and
will be developed following the highly successful management
philosophy of the Discovery Program.
Contacts: Martha J. Heil (818) 354-0850
JPL Media Relations Office