Private company interested in exploring Enceladus

First privately-funded planetary science mission will search for life in Enceladus' plumes.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Nov 17, 2017
The commercial venture Breakthrough Initiatives, which seeks to probe the solar system and beyond for extraterrestrial life, is interested in sending a probe to Saturn's moon Enceladus and flying it through its south polar geysers to search for microbial life.

Company founder Yuri Milner announced his firm's interest in an Enceladus mission during a conference titled "A New Space Age" sponsored by The Economist magazine.

Billionaire Milner is already funding two separate $100 million space projects--Breakthrough Listen, which is looking for signs of intelligent civilizations from the nearest stars and galaxies, and Breakthrough Starshot, which aims to build and send a robotic spacecraft to the Alpha Centauri system at up to 20 percent the speed of light.

Discovered by NASA's Cassini mission, Enceladus' geysers are likely being ejected from a subsurface ocean of salty liquid water underneath its 313-mile (504-km-) diameter ice shell.

Flying a spacecraft through the plumes would make it possible for scientists to study the underground ocean without actually having to land on Enceladus' surface.

Cassini made multiple flights through the geysers, but the probe did not have equipment capable of detecting life.

"We formed a sort of little workshop around this idea," Milner stated. "Can we design a low-cost, privately-funded mission to Enceladus, which can be launched relatively soon and that can look more thoroughly at those plumes and try to see what's going on there ahead of a more expensive mission that NASA is considering right now, which might take ten years to launch?"

Milner added his company is seriously discussing the design and launch of the first-ever privately-funded interplanetary science mission.

He did not address the mission's potential cost. Operating under NASA's New Frontiers program, a potential agency mission to Enceladus would cost $1 billion at most and would launch in the mid-2020s.

Of twelve proposals seeking funding under New Frontiers, two seek to explore Enceladus. A few proposed missions will be chosen as finalists this year, and the winning mission will be selected in 2019.




Have something to say? Let us know in the comments section or send an email to the author. You can share ideas for stories by contacting us here.

Comments should take into account that readers may hold different opinions. With that in mind, please make sure comments are respectful, insightful, and remain focused on the article topic.