The road to lower costs outer planet missions has been paved by NASA’s first two New Frontiers missions, the $700M New Horizons mission to Pluto and the $1.1B Juno mission to Jupiter. But can the cost of a mission to the outer solar system be cut to $450M, the limit for a Discovery mission?
I've been resisting all urges to speculate on what kinds of geological features are present on Ceres, until now. Finally, Dawn has gotten close enough that the pictures it has returned show geology: bright spots, flat-floored craters, and enigmatic grooves.
At last! Cassini is orbiting in Saturn's ring plane again. I do enjoy the dramatic photographs of Saturn's open ring system that Cassini can get from an inclined orbit, and we won't be getting those again for another year. But with an orbit close to the ring plane, Cassini can repeatedly encounter Saturn's icy moons, and icy moon flybys are my favorite thing about the Cassini mission.
Last year, rumors swirled that NASA may be so pinched for dollars that the agency might end the Cassini mission early. Today, Cassini received the welcome news that it has formally been funded through the planned end of its extended-extended mission in 2017. A huge congratulations to the Cassini mission!
As Cassini celebrates 10 years at Saturn, we're beginning to see its long-term observations of Saturnian moons bear fruit. A surprising new result: While Prometheus exerts control over the F ring and Atlas, Pandora -- long thought to be a shepherd of the F ring -- does not.