News | January 16, 2015
International Mission Opportunities and Participation
The exploration of the solar system is uniquely poised to bring planetary scientists, worldwide, together under the common theme of understanding the origin, evolution and bodies of our solar neighborhood.
NASA's Planetary Science Division (PSD) and space agencies around the world are collaborating on an extensive array of missions exploring our solar system.
Planetary science missions are conducted by some of the most sophisticated robots ever built. International collaboration is an essential part of what we do. It occurs because we encourage international participation on our missions, both strategic (e.g., Mars 2020) and competitive (e.g., Discovery and New Frontiers), and because other space agencies have invited us to participate in their missions.
"International partnerships are an excellent, proven way of amplifying the scope and sharing the science results of a mission otherwise implemented by an individual space agency. The exploration of the solar system is uniquely poised to bring planetary scientists, worldwide, together under the common theme of understanding the origin, evolution and bodies of our solar neighborhood."
At a recent meeting of the Planetary Science Subcommittee, a question was brought up as to whether NASA/PSD is doing enough with planetary missions led by other space agencies in addition to encouraging international participation on our missions. The reality is that all but a very few NASA/PSD missions have had significant international participation and NASA/PSD has a very healthy participation rate with other space agencies that have the capabilities and desire to explore the solar system.
My column, this time, will briefly review our current participation with a few of our many international partners by first discussing how we partner with them on their missions and then what opportunities there are for foreign instruments and investigators on NASA-led missions. International partnerships are just one of those things we routinely do and think of. The field of planetary science is truly international and we like it that way.
European Space Agency (ESA)
NASA has had a long and very fruitful collaboration with ESA on every one of its planetary missions. ESA has been involved in our Cassini mission and, currently, we are involved in ESA's Rosetta mission (three full instruments, part of a fourth), BepiColombo mission (one instrument in the Italian Space Agency's instrument suite), and the Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer mission (one instrument and parts of two others). In concert with ESA's Mars missions we have a full instrument and parts of several others on ESA's Mars Express mission, the orbit-ground communications package on its Trace Gas Orbiter (to be launched in 2016), and part of the German Aerospace Center-led Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer instrument going onboard ESA's ExoMars Rover (to be launched in 2018).
In August 2014, ESA released its call for proposals in the medium-sized mission class (referred to as M4) as part of its Cosmic Vision program. Once again, ESA has been just tremendous in welcoming possible cooperative proposals with NASA. To ensure NASA's knowledge and attention in this opportunity, ESA requested a statement of interest from NASA to be part of the submitted proposal. On September 9th, I sent out an announcement to the planetary science proposing community through our normal Science Mission Directorate (SMD) listserv delineating how to obtain a NASA/PSD statement of interest from me. It stated that "Proposers desiring such a letter must submit to NASA a brief description of (1) the mission concept contemplated, (2) the relevance of its science objectives to established NASA planetary science objectives, (3) contemplated U.S. involvement in the mission to be proposed and, (4) how the U.S. contribution is unique and mission enabling." Based on this process I have delivered several statements of interest to ESA to its M4 call that closed on January 15th.
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)
As we did with Hayabusa-1, PSD worked with JAXA to come up with a number of important activities, personnel, and navigation support for JAXA's Hayabusa-2 mission. Hayabusa-2 was successfully launched on December 2, 2014 and is on its journey to asteroid 1999JU3. In addition to obtaining 10 percent of the sample acquired by Hayabusa-2, PSD will be providing, through a competition, participating scientists to support the mission. In addition to Hayabusa-2, PSD is also cooperating with JAXA on its other current planetary mission, Akatsuki. Akatsuki will be inserted into orbit at Venus later this year. NASA's role is for deep space tracking and navigation support, in addition to providing key scientific expertise for data analysis and long term archiving of the data.
Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)
Another important example of successful planetary science cooperation is with India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar mission. The NASA Moon-Mineralogy Mapper spectrometer on the Indian Chandrayaan-1 lunar mission detected hydroxyl and/or water in higher abundances than ever imagined on the moon. In September 2014, ISRO and NASA officially signed a charter for a Mars Working Group. This working group was established to find ways to collaborate on currently operating Mars missions and to explore the possibilities for enhanced cooperation between the two countries on future Mars missions. This working group was established under a broader U.S.-India government framework.
NASA Competitive Missions
The Planetary Science Division has continuously provided its U.S. planetary science community with opportunities to include international participation on NASA missions. For example, NASA's Discovery and New Frontiers Programs provide U.S. scientists the opportunity to assemble international teams and design exciting, focused planetary science investigations that would deepen the knowledge about our solar system.
The philosophy of Discovery and New Frontiers missions is to solicit proposals for an entire mission, put together by a team comprised of people from universities, NASA centers, Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, industry, small businesses and international groups (as appropriate), led by a Principal Investigator (PI). The PI develops the scientific objectives and instrument payload. The team brings together the skills and expertise needed to carry out a mission from concept development through data analysis. The PI is responsible for assuring that cost, schedule and performance objectives are met. Current Discovery missions with significant international involvement include InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport), a single node geophysical seismic mission to Mars, and the Dawn mission, en route to Ceres after visiting Vesta for more than a year.
NASA Competitive Instruments
Last year, PSD put out an international call for instruments on the Mars 2020 mission. This procurement led to the selection of Spanish and Norwegian scientists leading two instruments and French scientists providing a significant portion of another instrument. This was a tremendously successful activity leading to another similar call for instrument proposals for the Europa mission that is currently under definition by NASA. Europa mission instruments will be used to conduct high priority scientific investigations addressing the science goals for the moon's exploration outlined in the National Resource Council's Planetary Decadal Survey, Vision and Voyages (2011). The selection of these instruments will be announced in the late spring or early summer of 2015.
International partnerships are an excellent, proven way of amplifying the scope and sharing the science results of a mission otherwise implemented by an individual space agency. The exploration of the solar system is uniquely poised to bring planetary scientists, worldwide, together under the common theme of understanding the origin, evolution and bodies of our solar neighborhood. In the past decade we have witnessed great examples of international partnerships that made various missions the success they are known for today. As Director of Planetary Science at NASA I will continue to seek cooperation with our international partners in support of missions they lead and in support of missions NASA leads.