We’re going to Neptune, we’re going to Neptune….

Well, hopefully.  For the first time, NASA has made it more of a priority to put orbiters around the two remaining major planets, Uranus and Neptune, and is soliciting proposals for Uranus and Neptune orbiters, perhaps as a flagship-class mission that could be build as two copies, one for each planet, to launch sometime after 2020 or even 2030.  They’re also asking for proposals for cheaper options.  Even with this renewed focus, though, the missions face some stiff competition — from the as-yet-unplanned mission that will retrieve the samples collected by the 2020 Mars rover, from missions to study the oceans of Europa and Enceladus, and from a proposed Titan lander that already missed its opportunity in the last round (losing out to Mars InSight).  Plus, as outer-solar-system vehicles, they will certainly require plutonium, and that alone makes them expensive.

But I’m excited all the same!  This is a very long-range thing, so many of the scientists and engineers currently working at JPL will be retired before these probes reach their targets.  But with it finally a priority, perhaps these mysterious icy gas giants will finally get the missions they deserve.  Neither world has been visited since Voyager 2 made its solitary flybies of each world during the Grand Tour, and they remain deeply mysterious.

SpaceflightNow: Uranus, Neptune in NASA’s Sights for New Robotic Mission


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