Spacecraft Missions To The Giant Planets

Over the past few decades NASA has led the way in the exploration of the giant planets with a series of ever larger and more complicated spacecraft ranging from the simple Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft to the highly advanced Cassini/Huygens mission introduced in the last chapter. More recent spacecraft have involved a significant contribution from ESA and other individual countries, which is especially true of the Cassini/Huygens mission: the entire Titan Huygens probe was ESA-funded. Such international collaboration is likely to underpin future missions to these worlds. In addition, NASA has recently steered away from giant multifunctional spacecraft to more numerous, cheaper missions aimed at particular scientific questions. This "faster, cheaper, better'' philosophy underlies the Discovery Program of NASA, and a number of giant planet missions have so far been proposed, although none has yet been selected. Hence, the only assured giant planet mission in the next ten years is the continuing Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn, previously described in Chapter 7, and the NASA Juno mission described next, although it is very likely that NASA and ESA will collaborate to send a spacecraft to either the Jupiter or Saturn systems in the 2015-2025 timeframe.

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