Uranus Pathfinder

Uranus Pathfinder was a mission concept for the Uranian system evaluated in the 2010s by the ESA. Scientists from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory in the United Kingdom proposed the joint NASA–ESA Uranus Pathfinder mission to Uranus. It would be a medium-class (M-class) mission to be launched in 2022, and was submitted to the ESA in December 2010 with the signatures of 120 scientists from around the globe. The ESA caps the cost of M-class missions at €470 million. Uranus Pathfinder was proposed in support of ESA’s Cosmic 2015 Vision 2015-2025. The mission study including a number of possible combinations of launch dates, trajectories, and flybys (gravity assists), including flybys of Earth, Venus, and of the planet Saturn. Indeed the study noted the velocity change requrioments are only marginally higher than for typical missions to Saturn of this period.

 

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In the baseline concept, UP is an ESA-NASA bilateral and it would launch on an Atlas V 551 in January 2025 on an VEE interplanetary transfer to Uranus, reaching Uranus orbit in November 2037 after a cruise phase lasting 12.8 years.

It would orbit Uranus in a highly eccentric 45-day polar science orbit, with close periapsis distances to Uranus in order to make high fidelity measurements of Uranus' gravity and magnetic fields.

The scientific payload has a strong heritage in Europe and beyond and includes: narrow angle camera, visible/near-IR imaging spectrometer, thermal IR bolometer, radio science, magnetometer, radio and plasma wave detector, and a plasma detector.

The spacecraft would use MMRTG technology to provide electrical power.

The mission would use the Earth communication stations at New Norcia (X-band), and Cebreros (X and Ka-Band) during its long cruise to the Uranian system.

Possible flyby/gravity assist combinations studied:

VVE (Venus-Venus-Earth)
VEE
EVVE
VEES (Venus-Earth-Earth-Saturn)
VVEES
For power, a European RTG using Americium 241 suggested for example, and also the MMRTG and ASRG by NASA were also mentioned, with a discussion about the availability issue of nuclear devices for this mission.