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exploring the ocean worldsIncluding Earth, roughly a dozen water ocean worlds exist in the solar system: the relict worlds Ceres and Mars, large Jovian and Saturnian icy moons with vast interior oceans, and Kuiper Belt Objects like Triton, Charon, and Pluto whose geologies are dominated by water and ammonia. The ocean-world science puzzle – which may reveal whether life is widespread in the cosmos, why it exists where it does, and how it originates – can only be solved by exploring all of them. Potential life in these places could not have shared our origins, yet these worlds contain the only evidence about life that we can touch, essentially forever. Thus, their exploration has existential significance. Planning a multiworld exploration campaign would be a multi-generational undertaking. The technical challenges are diverse and formidable, far harder than at Mars: missions to the Jovian and Saturnian ocean worlds are severely powerlimited; trip times can be more than a decade. And the science targets are global-scale oceans beneath kilometers of cryogenic ice. Today, we lack the instrumentation, subsystems, and machine-intelligence technologies needed. A systematic OWEP (ocean worlds exploration program) strategy can make most effective use of funding and time. The three priority ocean-world targets are Europa at Jupiter, and Enceladus and Titan at Saturn. Five hypothetical programmatic scenarios are compared to the default case. A coherent OWEP should have several parts: first, dedicated continuous investment in enabling technologies; and second, two directed-purpose, medium-class (~$1B) missions per decade that conduct pivotal investigations on a documented roadmap. A robust OWEP would cost about 1/40th more per year than NASA’s current budget.
Document ID
Document Type
Preprint (Draft being sent to journal)
External Source(s)
Naderi, Firouz
Hand, Kevin
Cwik, Thomas
Sotin, Christophe
Lunine, Jonathan
Sherwood, Brent
Date Acquired
May 28, 2018
Publication Date
May 28, 2018
Distribution Limits
Technical Review