Last time we discussed robotic Martian exploration, further building the operational infrastructure and experience base to move increasingly farther out into the Solar System. And what’s in the Outer Solar System? The Outer Planets, naturally. Now we’re on to OPS.12, Robotic Exploration of the Outer Planets.
While the starting point for such explorations wouldn’t necessarily spring linearly from some pre-defined end of the Martian voyages, I think spending some time there first to get that experience I was talking about under our belts would be a good idea. The concept would be to make the long-distance operations more or less standard and well-known, in an environment otherwise relatively benign. Certainly, it’s alternatively quite hot and quite cold, but we’ve had to deal with that up to this point even in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), it’s now understood. The real challenge with Mars is the extremities of teleoperation. With the Outer Planets, you now have hot/cold/distance, which would be amplified in magnitude, but now we add high energy radiation and extreme gravity gradients to the mission. The investigative rewards for science become ever greater the farther out we go at this stage, but so too become the risks and complexities. We had better build the skills and knowledge to support the missions.