The science case for in-situ sampling of Kuiper Belt Objects

Bakes, Emma
January 2000
AIP Conference Proceedings;2000, Vol. 504 Issue 1, p925
Academic Journal
This mission may be thought of as merely a first step in an overall initiative to push humanity’s exploration beyond the Solar System and into interstellar space. By initiating a mission to the Kuiper Belt, we are poised to extend human space exploration beyond the Sun’s family of planets. However, the ultimate goal of the mission is to better understand the formation and transformation of matter originating in the primordial interstellar medium (ISM) and how it relates in chemical composition and evolution to both the solar nebula and the cometary material which bombarded early Earth with prebiotic volatiles. We are planning an initial single in situ sampling mission of a range of classes of organic molecules and dust particles on two Kuiper Belt Objects (KBO) at around 40 AU, a flyby of an appropriate Centaur object (thought to be the evolutionary step between a KBO and a comet), plus we will perform accompanying cruise science to sample free flying interplanetary dust and impinging interstellar dust on the way to the Kuiper Belt. The cruise science will elucidate the broad physical properties of the dust grain population such as the variation of elemental and isotopic composition, size distribution and the variation in their energetic processing with radius from the Sun. In addition, we aim to quantitatively analyze the color variation of the KBO population. The mission will help establish a virtual presence throughout the Solar System and probe deeper into the mysteries of life on Earth and beyond. It also addresses the necessity to develop and utilize revolutionary enabling technologies for missions impossible in prior decades. © 2000 American Institute of Physics.


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