Hera - an ESA M-class Saturn Entry Probe Mission Proposal
Abstract:A fundamental goal of solar system exploration is to understand the origin of the solar system, the initial stages, conditions, and processes by which the solar system formed, how the formation process was initiated, and the nature of the interstellar seed material from which the solar system was born. Key to understanding solar system formation and subsequent dynamical and chemical evolution is the origin and evolution of the giant planets and their atmospheres. Additionally, the atmospheres of the giant planets serve as laboratories to better understand the atmospheric chemistries, dynamics, processes, and climates on all planets in the solar system including Earth, offer a context and provide a ground truth for exoplanets and exoplanetary systems, and have long been thought to play a critical role in the development of potentially habitable planetary systems.
Remote sensing observations are limited when used to study the bulk atmospheric composition of the giant planets of our solar system. A remarkable example of the value of in situ measurements is provided by measurements of Jupiter’s noble gas abundances and helium mixing ratio by the Galileo probe. In situ measurements provide direct access to atmospheric regions that are beyond the reach of remote sensing, enabling the dynamical, chemical and aerosol-forming processes at work from the thermosphere to the troposphere below the cloud decks to be studied.
Studies for a newly proposed Saturn atmospheric entry probe mission named Hera is being prepared for the upcoming European Space Agency Medium Class (M5) mission announcement of opportunity. A solar powered mission, Hera will take approximately 8 years to reach Saturn and will carry instruments to measure the composition, structure, and dynamics of Saturn’s atmosphere.
In the context of giant planet science provided by the Galileo, Juno, and Cassini missions to Jupiter and Saturn, the Hera Saturn probe will provide critical measurements of composition, structure, and processes that are not accessible by remote sensing. The results of Hera will help test competing theories of solar system and giant planet origin, chemical, and dynamical evolution.