Encelascope transfer stage (bottom) integrated with the spacecraft (top). The current transfer stage concept utilizes two propellant tanks. The outer toroidal tank drops away once its fuel is spent.
Background We selected Enceladus as our initial target for study due to its apparent habitability, as discovered by the Cassini mission to Saturn. Enceladus has water geysers erupting from its surface, which emerge from the global ocean lying beneath its icy shell. After being ejected into space, the tiny water droplets flash freeze into ice grains and form plumes over 100 km high. Cassini flew through the plumes, and scientists back on Earth analyzed the contents of the ice grains via measurements taken by Cassini's onboard instruments. In addition to water, the ice grains were found to contain salt, silica, methane, complex organics, and nitrogen. The salt concentration appears to be in a range compatible with life, like the Earth's oceans. The silica indicates direct interaction between the subsurface ocean and the rocky mantle, likely at hydrothermal vents. This resembles processes known to take place on the Earth's ocean floor. The methane abundance is more consistent with biogenic sources than abiogenic sources. Nitrogen is a key element required by life on Earth, and the complex organics detected may have been formed by biological processes. In addition to the tantalizing clues indicating habitability and perhaps even habitation, the radiation environment at Enceladus is much less intense than the radiation environment at other potential mission destinations, such as Europa, an icy moon of Jupiter. This allows lower-cost electronics to be used for the mission because they don't need to be as resistant to the effects of radiation.
Artistic rendering of the spacecraft orbiting Enceladus during the science phase of the mission.
Other Missions and Programs
ASTROBi is currently accepting proposals and idea submissions for other missions and research programs. Our dedication to astrobiology gives us the latitude to consider a diverse array of possible missions and programs to study and execute.
Example Space Missions
- A mission to Venus to search for biomarkers in the clouds
- A deep-space rideshare platform for delivering multiple spacecraft to multiple life detection targets, such as Mars, Ceres, Europa, Enceladus, and the Uranus system.
- A solar gravitational lens telescope
- Missions to Mars, Ceres, and Uranus
- Solar sail missions to chase down interstellar objects
- A "mini Kepler" exoplanet-hunting CubeSat
- Balloon-based telescope missions with life-detection goals, such as SuperBIT
- Development of a deep-space navigation system, to enable low-cost deep-space astrobiology missions
Example Research Programs
- Physical and theoretical models of Enceladus' geysers to determine their likely properties
- Physical models of potential collection mechanisms for collecting ice grains while orbiting Enceladus
- Hydrothermal vent models to better understand the phenomena taking place at the bottom of Enceladus' oceans
- Experimental abiogenesis research
- Theoretical and computational origin-of-life investigations
- Development of a low-cost deep-space communications network for university or commercial astrobiology deep-space programs
If you have ideas similar to (or inspired by) the lists above or would like to submit a proposal, please contact us. We would love to discuss interesting missions and collaboration opportunities.