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Extreme Environment Technologies for Future Space Science Missions (September 2007)
Illustration showing plans to use a balloon to explore another planet.
Block diagram of deployment concept of a balloon at Titan.

Original Issue: September 19, 2007

Executive Summary

The Planetary Science Division of the Science Mission Directorate, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), supports a technology planning effort at JPL, whose goal is to identify the technologies needed for future missions. More specifically, it attempts to determine those technologies where a NASA investment can have the greatest impact on future missions. This report on technologies for extreme environments is the culmination of a multiyear study. Interim results from this effort have already been incorporated into NASA strategic planning through the 2006 Solar System Exploration Roadmap and the 2007 SMD Science Plan. This report is expected to support the formulation of a NASA technology program, specifically focused on extreme environment technologies, and to guide the selection of the technologies that comprise that program.

Extreme Environments Technologies for Future Space Missions
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A number of planned or potential planetary science missions have elements that must survive and operate in extreme environments. Environments are defined here as "extreme" if they involve exposure to extremes in pressures, temperatures, ionizing radiation, chemical and/or physical corrosion, and the impact of hypervelocity particles. In addition, certain missions would induce extremes in heat flux or deceleration, leading to their inclusion as missions in need of technologies for extreme environments.

In 2003, the NRC Decadal Survey for Solar System Exploration identified the need for mission-specific extreme environment technologies needed to implement the missions that it recommended for implementation in the decade 2002-2013, as well as more ambitious technology developments for missions in the subsequent decade. Technologies needed during the first decade of the plan included:

  • Radiation-hard electronics for missions to the intense radiation environments of the Jupiter system;
  • Entry probe technology that could enable entry into the Jupiter environment and for operation down to 100 bars pressure depth;
  • Technologies for (short-duration) survival, operation, and sample acquisition on the surface of Venus; and
  • Drilling, sample manipulation, and storage at cryogenic temperatures for comet missions.

For the subsequent decade, the NRC report identified the need for technology for aerial vehicles for the exploration of Venus, Mars, and Titan; and long-lived high-temperature and high-pressure systems for operation on and near the surface of Venus.

An initial step for this study was the "Workshop on Extreme Environments Technologies for Space Exploration," hosted at JPL in late 2003. It included representatives of the aerospace, oil drilling, automotive, energy, and electronics industries, as well as leading university research faculty members. This workshop provided an important reference point for developing solutions to the technology needs identified by the Decadal Survey. In 2004, this information was incorporated in the Capability Roadmaps developed for the agency under the direction of Administrator Sean O'Keefe, and when the Planetary Program Support task began its support of the development of a Strategic Roadmap for Solar System Exploration early the following year, the work on extreme environments was embodied in the technology plan laid out in the 2006 Solar System Exploration Roadmap published in September 2006.

The present report begins with an assessment of the current state of practice in the pertinent technologies, then examines the missions to see where advances in technology would have the greatest impact and continues with a review of the emerging technologies that have not yet been used in space, but have the potential for enabling and enhancing missions. The report concludes with a set of technology roadmaps to guide the agency's future investment plans.


Last Updated: 6 March 2012

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Last Updated: 6 Mar 2012