astronomy 1000 project 3

Project 3: Review Mission Proposals (140 points)

In this project you will read five mission proposals written by other students taking this course. You will then write a paper analyzing these five proposals. You will write a critique of each of these proposals, one at a time. You will rank each paper (1-5), assigning the rank of 1 (strongest) to one proposal, 2 to one proposal, 3 to one proposal, 4 to one proposal and 5 (weakest) to one proposal. As a result, each paper will receive a unique rank. You will receive 28 points for each of the 5 analyses that your paper will contain, so your paper as a whole will be worth up to 140 points.

You will base your analysis on the following criteria:

  • Does this proposal satisfy the assignment requirements for a new unmanned space probe to be sent to investigate something in our solar system?
  • Does this proposal clearly answer the six questions below in sufficient detail?
    1. Where will this probe go? You may send it to any place in our solar system. Your proposal should contain a detailed and thorough introduction to this object and what we currently know about it.
    2. What other missions (if any) have been sent to this location? Discuss the missions that have been sent to this target in the past and report their principal findings.
    3. Will this probe be a lander, an orbiter, or a flyby mission? If it is a lander, will it be a rover? How long will this mission last?
    4. What instruments will this probe carry?
    5. What scientific question(s) will this probe answer? Explain the unsolved mystery or mysteries that your mission will be designed to address. Your proposal should contain a detailed and thorough introduction to these unsolved mysteries. State your questions explicitly, using a question mark at the end of each question. Please be specific, and be sure to explain exactly how the instruments carried by the probe will allow it to answer these questions.
    6. Why are these scientific questions important? Make a persuasive case for why your mission would be a worthwhile use of NASA’s resources. Why are these scientific questions important?
    • Is this proposal realistic with current technology and typical NASA funding levels? Does this mission make sense, given what we know about the object it plans to study?

    Your analysis must explain and justify your ranking. So if you rank a paper 5, you must state your reasons for giving it such a low rank. Further, in these evaluations do not compare the papers with each other. Instead take the papers one at a time, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of each paper in turn. More than anything else, be specific with both your compliments and your criticism. Do not give vague criticism like “overall things probably should have been more detailed.” Instead say things like, “This paper did not explain exactly what instruments the probe would carry.”

    Mission Proposal A: Harvesting Asteroids: Science and Economy

    We propose sending a space shuttle into the space encompassing 10-30 times the Earth/Moon orbital area. This area sees frequent asteroid activity and would be close enough to feasibly retrieve asteroids and bring them to Earth.

    Two companies are already intending to mine asteroids. DSI plans to prospect asteroids with one spacecraft and then harvest asteroids with another. Planetary Resources are planning on using telescopes to survey the asteroids and then use a spacecraft to intercept and harvest them. They also plan to build a larger spacecraft that would travel much further into the solar system to gather information about other potential asteroids. Both of these companies are private companies that see the financial benefit of harvesting asteroids. The precious metals that can be obtained from an asteroid are extremely valuable, especially as resources on Earth continue to be overused. In addition, the hydrogen and oxygen that could be obtained from the asteroids would provide the means to offer fuel stations to other spacecraft. With the beginnings of private space travel already happening, this would be a truly valuable and lucrative endeavor, as well as encouraging more space travel and exploration by building fueling these stations in space.

    The spacecraft would need to be large enough to retrieve an asteroid and return to Earth with it. The ability to land in space would not be necessary, but being able to orbit the Earth as it searches for asteroids would be. The goal of this endeavor would be to profit financially, so the subsequent trips into space would be ongoing and indefinite depending on supply and demand.

    The spacecraft will be unmanned and will use the gravity of the moon to assist in powering the craft towards the asteroids in orbit to harvest. The spacecraft will have a huge baglike attachment that will hold the asteroid until returned to Earth. Cameras will be necessary as the craft will be piloted and controlled during harvest by a station on Earth. This craft will not need an onboard lab, but instead will utilize all of its space and resources to obtain asteroids and return them to Earth where they will be studied and their resources utilized.

    The studying of asteroids will tell us exactly what types of resources they hold and how much. This could open the door to financially feasible further space exploration, if the profit exceeds the expense as planned. Also, the ability to utilize the hydrogen, oxygen, and possibly vast amounts of water in space would make fueling stations not only possible, but also probable and further the ability of private and government funded space travel, exploration, and possibly colonization. In addition, we succeed in harvesting asteroids in our orbital area we would have the ability to remove potential threats as well. At the present time, when we believe an asteroid has the potential to crash onto Earth’s surface, all we can do is wait and hope. Technology enabling us to intercept these threats, actually profit from them, and potentially facilitate habitation in space would be priceless both economically, scientifically, and humanitarianly.


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    Mission Proposal B: Exploring Tectonics of Venus

    Right now we don’t believe that Venus has any tectonic plates like Earth does, however there is tectonic activity that has been proven, such as volcanoes, mountains, valleys, faults, and folds. On our planet, many of these natural structures have been caused by our tectonic plates and subduction zones. So what exactly is causing these on Venus? And what is the composition of the crust? We need to explore the composition of Venus and what exactly lies beneath the surface and causes this tectonic activity of the planet.

    Right now we do know quite a bit about Venus based on previous missions. According to the ESA here’s a brief list of what we’ve learned and past missions:

    • The Mariner 2 in 1962 was the first spacecraft to probe the atmosphere and determined there was no magnetic field
    • Venera 4,5 and 6 from the USSR learned that the atmosphere had presence of nitrogen and oxygen
    • Venera 7 was the first spacecraft to land successfully in 1970 and was able to measure the temperature and pressure of the surface of Venus
    • Venera 8 also was able to land and was able to measure windspeed as well as surface composition by gamma-ray spectrometer
    • In 1975 Vanera 9 & 10 orbited Venus and the first panoramic images of the planet’s surface were captured
    • Pioneer Venus 1 & 2 in 1978-1992 was the longest mission in orbit for 14 years and was able to make a radar map of the surface as well as measure cloud composition and properties
    • Vanera 11 & 12 in 1978 measured radiation and atmosphere using Doppler tracking
    • Vanera 13 & 14 were able to produce color panoramic images of the surface of Venus as well as did soil analysis and found leucite basalt and tholeiitic basalt
    • Vanera 15 & 16 in 1983 studied the mesosphere by using thermal emission spectroscopy
    • Vega 1 & 2 from the USSR in 1985 recorded winds and precise temperatures of the surface
    • Magellan from the US in 1990-1994 was able to do almost global radar mapping of the planet’s surface and crust
    • Galileo in 1990 was able to detect radio waves and possible lightning
    • Finally, the last mission was Cassini-Huygens on it’s way to Saturn in 1998-1999 and was able to give images of near infrared emissions.

    (ESA, Past Missions to Venus)

    Our mission will last 5 years and will be composed of two landing spacecrafts. They will be rovers that will test the crust in various locations of the planet. They will be carrying radar instruments as well as penetration drills in order to get samples of the surface of the planet at various temperatures. We will be drilling on various locations of the planet to see how different areas have different compositions and temperatures. There are many different areas in order to sample, for example, our spacecrafts will be going to both continents of Venus, Ishtar Terra as well as Aphrodite Terra which will be near Venus’ equator. Additionally, it is believed that these were formed similar to the Himalayas according to (PSI) so we will further investigate that. Venus will also explore many craters of Venus.

    We will be able to learn how Venus’ tectonics work exactly and exact thickness and composition of the crust in various areas. It’s important we learn about these tectonics and compositions of Venus in order to learn more about Earth especially since it was believed that Venus was once very similar to Earth


    Past missions to Venus. (n.d.). Retrieved August 7, 2016, from…

    Venus. (n.d.). Retrieved August 7, 2016, from

    Venus Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved August 7, 2016, from

    Mission Proposal C: Exploring a Black Hole

    NASA has been around for a very long time and has made some of the most important and interesting discoveries the world has ever seen. Along with many of its accomplishments and success, NASA is still pushing the boundaries and setting new standards for the world to follow when it comes to space travel and space exploration. The space mission I am proposing is based on similar missions both NASA and the ESA have set in motion, however to my understanding have not yet touched upon. The space mission I am proposing is; what is at the bottom of a black hole, but before we dive into the black hole, first I’m going to discuss what a black hole is and where in space one can be found to explore.

    In order for this mission to take place, the probe that will be sent into space will need to leave our solar system and enter into the galaxy known as the Milky Way. First discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610, the Milky Way’s name is derived from its perception as a low lit stream stretching across the sky, but in a manner that individual stars cannot be identified by the naked eye. (Harper) The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy that is estimated to have a diameter spanning about 100,000 to 120,000 light years. Estimates of the number of stars that are contained within the Milky Way are to be around 100 to 400 billion stars. (Hodge)

    Our solar system is located about 27,000 light years away from the galactic center of the Milky Way, and at the very center is likely to be a supermassive black hole. This black hole is so big it is “billions of times as massive as the sun.” (Redd, Milky Way) “This supermassive black hole may have started off smaller, but the ample supply of dust and gas allowed it to gorge itself and grow into a giant.” (Redd, Milky Way) While black holes cannot be directly viewed, scientists are able to observe the gravitational effects “as they change and distort the paths of the material around it.” (Redd, Milky Way)

    This mission proposal is not the first when discussing black holes. One such mission is NASA’s Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR). NuSTAR will “pierce the dust and gas shrouding sources of high-energy X-rays, revealing many secrets they have long managed to conceal, scientists say.” (Redd, NASA) According to Fiona Harrison of the California Institute of Technology, “NuSTAR is going to be the first focusing high-energy X-ray telescope to be sent and used in space.” As a dying star begins to collapse on it, its gravitational pull becomes increasingly stronger to the point where light cannot escape to the surface. With this new gravitational pull, dust and gases begin to get pulled in and with the help of friction and other exterior forces being applied, the material that gets sucked in begins to heat up millions of degrees. NuSTAR has the capabilities of capturing X-rays which should “allow astronomers to calculate how fast black holes are spinning, and understand more about how they formed.” (Redd, NASA) Not only will NuSTAR be able to aid in determining the speed of a black hole, but also it will help progress the study of “how accelerated particles can vary in brightness over the course of time.” (Redd, NASA) There is another telescope in space of the European Space Agency (ESA), XMM-Newton, which is also taking X-rays of black holes working in conjunction with NuSTAR, however it differs from NuSTAR in that XMM-Newton is looking for low-energy while NuSTAR is capturing high-energy. “Combining higher-energy X-ray data from NuSTAR with observations from XMM-Newton, scientists were able to find signatures of iron scattered from the sides, proving the winds emanate from the black hole not in a beam, but in a nearly spherical fashion.” (NASA)

    Our probe that will be sent into space will be sort of both an orbiter as well as a flyby mission. The purpose of this mission is to determine what is on the other end of a black hole. There have been no known reports of where a black hole leads to or what is on the other end of one. This probe will help seek the information to answer this question. We are classifying this space probe to be an orbiter in that it will start on the outskirts of the black hole until it gets attracted in via the gravitational pull while still being a flyby probe due to the nature that we truly do not know where this probe will be taken, with no intention of landing anywhere. In order for this mission to be a success, we realize there will be no retrieving of the probe itself so all the data it collects will be streamed and passed along to us on earth via wireless transmissions. We plan on receiving these transmissions for as long as possible while the probe is still operating and considered functional while in space. Some of the tools this probe will be carrying include radar, visible light cameras, camcorders or video cameras, and GPS. The radar on the probe will help determine if there are any potential large mass objects anywhere in the near distance of the probe, which will help in potentially finding new planets or other aspects of space that can be studied. The visible light cameras and camcorders will continually take photos and video of the mission documenting what actually is occurring while travelling through a black hole and what is potentially on the other end of one. The GPS will allow us back on earth to determine its location from the start of the mission all the way to its destruction of completion, but will allow us on earth to map its movement and progress as it enters into the black hole.

    This can help provide us back on earth with answers that could potentially lead us to finding a whole new part of space that has never been explored or even thought about. This probe could also be the key to finding another habitable planet or life in space or even help bridge the gap between time and space. We will not know any of this unless you allow us to the funds to accept our proposed mission and send this probe into a black hole.


    Harper, Douglas. “galaxy” Links to an external site. Online Etymology DictionaryLinks to an external site.. April 16, 2015

    Hodge, Paul W. “Milky Way Galaxy | Astronomy.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.


    “Milky Way Galaxy | Astronomy.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.


    “NASA, ESA Telescopes Give Shape to Furious Black Hole Winds.” NASA. NASA, 19 Feb. 2015. Web. 18 Apr. 2015.

    Redd, Nola Taylor. “Milky Way Galaxy: Facts About Our Galactic Home |” N.p., 22 Feb. 2013. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.


    Redd, Nola T. “NASA Black Hole Probe to Hunt Galactic Hearts of Darkness.” N.p., 30 Mar. 2012. Web. 16 Apr. 2015.


    Mission Proposal D: Saturn Explorer

    The mission that I am proposing is a mission to Saturn, to complement the missions that have already gone there and also add some new knowledge what we have already gained.

    Previous missions to Saturn include Pioneer 11 in 1973, Voyager 1 in 1977, Voyager 2 in 1977, and the currently operational Cassini mission. The main focus of first three missions was to return imagery of the planet, and also helped to increase our knowledge of the rings of Saturn. Voyager 1 in particular was programmed to flyby Saturn’s moon Titan in order to gain a more solid understanding of the atmosphere of the moon. According to the official NASA JPL website, Cassini was launched in 1997, and was extended an additional two years after the completion of the initial four year mission. An article in MSNBC shows how Cassini has helped to develop our understanding of Saturn’s rings, which this new mission will focus on. Since the rings of Saturn are one of the few areas in the solar system where scientists can observe processes that occurred to collect material to form planets, asteroids, and other objects in our solar system. Our knowledge of the rings, however, is still far from complete.

    This mission proposes an orbiter, in three parts, to journey to Saturn for an in-depth study of the rings. The orbiter will travel together to the planet, and then split into its three separate parts. Two parts will return to earth, while the final will remain at Saturn for continued work. The first part, the main communication module and instrumentation center will contain several high-resolution visible and radio cameras. Additionally, a radar system will be included and five sets of transmitters, three for communication with earth (1 main, 1 backup, 1 reserve), and 1 for the two sub-modules to communicate. The fifth transmitter will be used as an additional backup, if needed, for the other systems. The main module will use its visible and radio cameras to photograph the planet. The visible cameras will be dedicated to the rings, especially distant rings that were detected by the Cassini mission. These images will provide us with additional details on the rings, and possibly allow us to locate additional shepherd planets, which are believed to keep the ring particles aligned and in formation. The radar unit will also assist with this, and when they are found, in determining their rotation rates and distances, which will provide us with more detail on just how the rings work.

    The two sub-modules, will be much like the recent stardust mission, which used aerogel panels to collect comet debris and return it to earth for analysis. Aerogel is a solid substance that, while over 99% air, is very strong and able to capture small particles inside of it. One sub-module will enter into the outer rings and deploy a collector and remain there for 2 months. The other module would attempt the same, but in one of the inner rings. Communication and data would be transmitted to the main module, and relayed to earth. At the end of their collection periods, both modules would fire thrusters and a small engine for return to earth. Upon reentry, they would be taken to a lab and analyzed. The material returned would not only help us in understanding just what the rings are made of, but if there are any significant material differences between inner and outer rings. Additionally, a point of national pride would be earned, as they would be the first samples returned from Saturn.

    These questions are important because the interactions that are occurring in the rings of Saturn are those that formed our solar system. By locating shepherd moons, and determining exactly the contents of the rings, we will be better able to understand these processes. This in turn will open more information on the formation of the solar system, and quite possibly aid in the ability to find our systems much like our own.

    Cassini Mission Info:

    MSNBC Story:

    Missions to Saturn:…


    Proposal E: Extremophiles on Europa

    NASA must continue to pursue mankind’s insatiable desire to answer the ultimate question: do other forms of life exist in the universe? I would like to formally request the NASA Research Committee to adhere to my proposal of exploration of possible extraterrestrial life on one of Jupiter’s regular satellites, Europa. Europa’s geological characteristics provide the ideal location and best chance of success for the search of life: water.

    In the past several decades, biologists discovered microbial life, extremeophiles, in geochemically extreme conditions that are detrimental to the majority of life. Piezophiles were found deep in the ocean’s caves and trenches, despite the high hydrostatic pressure common in the deep terrestrial subsurface.1 No longer can scientists casually conclude that life cannot exist in such extreme conditions. Since water tends to be the missing ingredient for life in the Universe, Europa is the natural choice for a mission of this nature. This proposal aims to collect analyze water samples below the satellite’s icy crust to seek the possibility of existence of life through extremophiles. This research will transform how the scientific community theorizes the evolution of life, both here on Earth and on terrestrial worlds throughout the Universe. Europa’s icy and watery world is the ideal frontier for the biological and astronomical study of extraterrestrial life.

    Many challenges face our technical team as we prepare and envision this mission. The robotic probe must encounter several mission-critical phases and be capable of surviving atmospheric escape, trajectory travel through the galaxy, atmospheric-entry, icy surface-landing, and data-collection. Nevertheless, these are not fantastical obstacles that cannot be overcome. NASA gained global recognition as the leading experts of successful atmospheric-entry with the success of Spirit and Opportunity’s dramatic landing on Mars in 2003.2 During these missions, NASA learned invaluable lessons with atmospheric-penetration, parachute landing, probe communication, maneuverability, data collection and data transmission. The successes of this mission enlightened mankind with stunning imagery and microscopic viewings of Martian rocks. The challenges our mission faces are very similar to the obstacles Spirit and Opportunity overcame, which furthers the chances of success for this mission. With a broadened and diverse knowledge-base, our team has the capability to build the necessary equipment for an ice-landing with sufficient research funding.

    In addition to our knowledge gained from the successful land-mission to Mars, scientists have also gained great insight and experience during the Cassini-Huygens mission to Titan.3 While our mission won’t need to travel as far as Saturn, knowledge gained from these scientists will be invaluable when landing on Europa. Our team will use a probe similar to the Descent Imager/Spectral Radiometer (DISR) used in the Cassini-Huygens mission.4 The success of this mission will give our team another critical understanding on how to successfully deploy this mission with as little error as possible.

    With NASA’s success in these previous missions, our team has learned invaluable lessons to space-flight trajectory and atmospheric-entry. Launching a robotic probe to study Europa’s icy crust and oceanic properties is the next exploration of the galactic frontier. The possible existence of extremeophiles within Europa’s icy waters would confirm that life exists on a world other than our own. This discovery, and all scientists affiliated with the mission, will forever transform the scientific and social-political institutions of Earth.



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