Neptune Odyssey


Neptune Odyssey
Neptune orbiter.jpg
Artist's concept of a Neptune orbiter with potential atmospheric probes and a Triton lander
Mission typeNeptune orbiter
Mission durationCruise: 16 years
Science phase: 4 years[1]
Spacecraft properties
Launch mass3,218 kg (7,094 lb)[1]
Dry mass1,594 kg (3,514 lb)[1]
Payload mass214 kg (472 lb) plus 220 kg (490 lb) atmospheric probe[1]
DimensionsHeight: 6.96 m (22.8 ft)
Diameter: 4.56 m (15.0 ft)[1]
Power1,087 W (1.458 hp) from 3 Next-Generation Radioisotope thermoelectric generators[1]
Start of mission
Launch date2033 (proposed)[1]
RocketSpace Launch System (proposed)
Falcon Heavy (alternative)[1]
Neptune orbiter
Orbital insertion2049 (proposed)[1]
Neptune atmospheric probe
Atmospheric entry2049 (proposed)[1]

Neptune Odyssey is an orbiter mission concept to study Neptune and its moons, particularly Triton.[1] The orbiter would enter into a retrograde orbit of Neptune to facilitate simultaneous study of Triton and would launch an atmospheric probe to characterize Neptune's atmosphere. The concept is being developed as a potential large strategic science mission for NASA by a team led by the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. It is likely to be incorporated into the upcoming 2023-2032 Planetary Science Decadal Survey for possible recommendation as a mission priority. The current proposal targets a launch in 2033 using the Space Launch System with arrival at Neptune in 2049, although trajectories using gravity assists at Jupiter have also been considered with launch dates in 2031.


Voyager 2 is the only space probe to have visited the Neptune system, completing a flyby on August 25, 1989. An orbiter to Neptune was considered as part of the aborted Mariner Mark II program in the 1990s, and several mission concepts for an orbiter were developed in the 2000s, including a concept by the California Institute of Technology[2] and a version by the University of Idaho and Boeing,[3] though none were selected for further development. The 2011-2022 Planetary Science Decadal Survey recommended a Flagship-class orbiter mission to an ice giant with priority behind what would become the Mars 2020 rover and the Europa Clipper.[4] Ice giants are now appreciated as a common type of exoplanet, precipitating the need for further study of ice giants in the Solar System.[5] The ice giants Uranus and Neptune were seen as unique yet equally compelling scientific targets, but a Uranus orbiter and probe was given preference for logistical and cost reasons.[4][6] A Uranus orbiter would logically follow Flagship-class orbiter missions undertaken at Jupiter and Saturn (Galileo and Cassini, respectively). However, priority has since swung in the favor of Neptune[7] because Triton, likely a captured Kuiper belt object and ocean world, is a more compelling astrobiology target than the moons of Uranus (though Ariel and Miranda in particular are possible ocean worlds).[8] Voyager 2 was able to study and image only ~40% of Triton's surface during its brief encounter.

Two flyby mission proposals for Neptune and Triton also exist, both of which would conduct a flyby in 2038. The China National Space Administration's Interstellar Express, a trio of probes designed to explore the heliosphere, would have its second probe (IHP-2) explore Neptune and deliver an atmospheric probe before going off to explore a Kuiper Belt object and fly toward the tail of the heliosphere. NASA's Trident was a finalist for selection as a Discovery mission in 2020, with a proposed launch in 2025 and an intent to focus on Triton.[9] In June 2021, it was announced that Trident was not selected for development and launch,[10] while Interstellar Express is yet to be approved by CNSA.


There are five primary scientific questions to be addressed by an orbiter at Neptune:[1]

Mission concept

The present proposal targets a launch in 2033 using the Space Launch System and a 16 year-cruise directly to Neptune, with launch windows yearly during the 2030s. The cruise could be shortened to 12 years with a gravity assist at Jupiter, but this would require launch prior to 2032. A 220 kg (490 lb) atmospheric probe will be released from the orbiter before orbital insertion at Neptune and descend ~37 minutes into Neptune's atmosphere to study its composition, dynamics, and processes, sending data at least until reaching a pressure of 10 bars. After achieving Neptune orbit, the orbiter will conduct at least 46 flybys of Triton over the 4-year main science phase, achieving near-global coverage of the moon while simultaneously studying Neptune and other moons. The orbiter would then orbit progressively closer to Neptune and its rings on a "Grand Finale" similar to the Grand Finale of Cassini and eventually be destroyed in Neptune's atmosphere for planetary protection purposes.

The current proposal does not include a Triton lander. Both a static lander similar to the Huygens probe to Titan and an impactor that would release surface material for direct study by the orbiter were considered.[1] Ultimately, due to the incomplete knowledge of Triton's surface, risk of the close approach to Triton that an impactor would require, and priority of the atmospheric probe with respect to payload limitations, a lander is not presently part of the mission concept.

Orbiter instruments

The orbiter is proposed to carry 14 scientific instruments.[1]

Instrument Heritage Instrument Heritage Mission
Magnetometer MESSENGER Magnetometer MESSENGER
Color Narrow-Angle Camera Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) New Horizons
Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph Alice New Horizons
Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer Cassini
Laser Altimeter Mercury Laser Altimeter MESSENGER
Visible-Near Infrared Imaging Spectrometer Ralph New Horizons
Radio and Plasma Wave Detector Waves Juno
Thermal Infrared Imager Diviner Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
Microwave Radiometer Microwave Radiometer Juno
Thermal Plasma Spectrometer Jovian Auroral Distributions Experiment (JADE) Juno
Energetic Charged Particle Detector EPI-Lo Parker Solar Probe
Energetic Neutral Atom Imager IMAP-Ultra Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe
Dust Detector Interstellar Dust Experiment (IDEX) Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe
Public Engagement Camera (visible) Comet Infrared and Visible Analyser (CIVA) Rosetta

Atmospheric probe instruments

The atmospheric probe is proposed to carry 8 scientific instruments.[1]

Instrument Heritage Instrument Heritage Mission
Mass Spectrometer Huygens mass spectrometer Huygens
Atmospheric Structure Instrument Huygens Atmospheric Structure Instrument (HASI) Huygens
Helium Abundance Detector Galileo probe Helium Abundance Detector Galileo
Ortho-Para H2 Detector (in development)[5] none
Nephelometer Galileo probe Nephelometer Galileo
Net Flux Radiometer Galileo probe net-flux radiometer Galileo
Doppler Wind Experiment Huygens Doppler Wind Experiment (DWE) Huygens
Public Engagement Camera Philae camera Philae


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Abigail Rymer; Brenda Clyde; Kirby Runyon (August 2020). "Neptune Odyssey: Mission to the Neptune-Triton System" (PDF). Retrieved 18 April 2021.
  2. ^ Douglas Fiehler and Steven Oleson. (July 2004). "Neptune Orbiters Utilizing Solar and Radioisotope Electric Propulsion". American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  3. ^ Bernie Bienstock and David Atkinson (10 June 2005). "NEPtune Orbiter with Probes" (PDF). Outer Planets Assessment Group. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  4. ^ a b "Visions and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022". Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  5. ^ a b "Ice Giants Pre-Decadal Survey Mission Report". Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  6. ^ Hubbard, William B. (3 June 2010). "SDO-12345: Ice Giants Decadal Study" (PDF). National Academies Press. National Academy of Sciences. Archived (PDF) from the original on 6 May 2021. Retrieved 22 June 2020.
  7. ^ "Exploration Strategy for the Outer Planets 2023-2032: Goals and Priorities". Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  8. ^ "NASA Roadmap to Ocean Worlds". Retrieved 20 April 2021.
  9. ^ Brown, David W. (2019-03-19). "Neptune's Moon Triton Is Destination of Proposed NASA Mission". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-04-21.
  10. ^ Potter, Sean (2 June 2021). "NASA Selects 2 Missions to Study 'Lost Habitable' World of Venus" (Press release). NASA. Retrieved 2 June 2021.

External links

  • Outer Planets Assessment Group Fall 2020 Abstract
  • Exoplanets 2020 Presentation