Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Beam Me Up, JIMO!

JIMO (Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter) is Proposed for Flight in 2015. JIMO is an ambitious mission to fly a spacecraft out to Jupiter, orbit three of its planet-sized moons, and study the vast saltwater oceans locked under their icy surfaces. JIMO will visit Callisto first, then Ganymede, and then Europa.

The Electric Ion Propulsion System (Image credit: NASA)
JIMO designers will use the electric drive system known as ion propulsion to power it to Jupiter. That kind of drive previously was used successfully by NASA's Deep Space 1 mission, which demonstrated it for interplanetary travel. (Deep Space 1 was launched in 1998. It flew by Asteroid 9969 Braille in 1999 and then by Comet Borrelly in 2001.)

Deep Space 1 drew electricity for its thrusters from solar panels. JIMO would draw its electricity from a nuclear fission reactor. Heat from JIMO's nuclear fission reactor is converted to electricity, giving the probe more than 100 times as much power as a non-fission system of comparable weight.

JIMO will increase dramatically NASA's capability for space exploration. That technology will make it possible to consider such a large-scale mission as orbiting the moons of Jupiter one after the other. It also will open all of the vast unexplored regions of the outer Solar System for exploration.
Note from Technophile: Such a mission as JIMO poses extreme technical challenges, the main one being: It takes an enormous amount of propulsive ability (in other words rocket fuel) to reach Jupiter, then descend into its gravity well and enter orbit around Europa and the other moons. NASA will spend $2 billion over the next few years to develop a fleet of nuclear-powered spacecraft. No one knows what the program will eventually cost (certainly several billions). But NASA and the US administration is solidly behind the project, dubbed Prometheus (after the thief of fire from the gods, who gave it to man). Already three contracts, each worth $6 million, have been awarded to industrial contractors for early studies. JIMO will be the first of these spacecraft.
Source: [AerospaceGuide.net]

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