Could SpaceX be heading to Uranus next? The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine seems to think it should. The organization has released its latest decadal survey of planetary science and astrobiology. According to a report by Teslarati published on Wednesday, the survey hints that NASA should undertake a flagship mission to Uranus on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket.
The Uranus Orbiter and Probe
The mission is not entirely new. Called the Uranus Orbiter and Probe (UOP), the proposal has been under work for several years by a team that includes scientists from NASA, the University of California, and Johns Hopkins University. Now, with SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, the researchers feel they have the technology to make their long-held dream a reality.
The survey’s authors don’t come out and straight-up say that, but they do mention that “a Uranus mission is favored because an end-to-end mission concept exists that can be implemented in the 2023-2032 decade on currently available launch vehicles.” This leaves a choice between Falcon Heavy, United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur, Blue Origin’s New Glenn, and NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS).
Delays and many more issues
However, delays and other issues are holding back the other systems. ULA’s expendable Vulcan Centaur rocket has yet to launch, while Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket has so far proven to have very poor performance beyond Earth's orbit. Finally, NASA’s Europa Clipper orbiter showed that for SLS to take on any Uranus-level missions it would require that the ship undergo significant production improvements.
If all goes well with Falcon Heavy and the mission goes forward, the UOP mission to Uranus could offer the most in-depth information ever gathered on what is basically a rather unexplored planet. The only spacecraft to have visited Uranus, NASA's Voyager 2, only made a flyby in 1986, gathering very little viable information. What secrets could this ice giant hold? Only UOP could tell us.