Uranus orbiter and probe

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Uranus Orbiter and Probe
HORUS to Uranus.png
An artist's rendering of Uranus orbiter and probe.
Names Uranus Pathfinder, Herschel, Upsilon, ODINUS
Mission type Uranus reconnaissance
Operator NASA, ESA
Mission duration Cruise: ≤12.8 years
Science: ≥1.2 years
Spacecraft properties
Manufacturer Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Applied Physics Laboratory
Launch mass ≤ 4 tons[1]
Dry mass < 4 tons
Power 2 Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators[1]
Start of mission
Launch date January 2025 (January 2025)
Rocket Atlas V 551,[2] or SLS Block IB[1][3]
Launch site Cape Canaveral LC-41 or LC-39
Uranus orbiter
Orbital insertion Before 2043
Orbits ≥10[2]

The Uranus orbiter and probe, also known as Uranus Pathfinder by the European Space Agency, is a concept study by NASA and ESA on a mission to the planet Uranus. The mission would be a follow-up to Voyager 2's flyby in 1986. Two possibilities for transfer to Uranus have been considered: one, using an Atlas V 551 to launch the spacecraft into a trajectory that will make use of multiple gravity assists from Venus, Earth, and Jupiter,[2] and the other using the Space Launch System to launch the spacecraft directly towards Uranus.[1]


The Uranus orbiter and probe was evaluated in 2010 by the Applied Physics Laboratory,[4] recommended to NASA in 2011 by its Planetary Science Decadal Survey 2013–2022,[5] as well as evaluated in 2011[6] and proposed in 2015 to the ESA as the ODINUS mission, which includes an identical twin spacecraft to orbit Neptune.[7] A mission study was conducted which also considered a Neptune orbiter,[8] however, for feasibility reasons Neptune was dropped in favor of Uranus. Two white papers on Uranus exploration were also submitted to the Decadal Survey.[9][10] The survey listed the Uranus orbiter and probe as the third priority for a Flagship mission class after the MAX-C rover and the Jupiter Europa Orbiter. Both of these missions have since been transformed into other, similar missions, once again leaving the Uranus orbiter as the third priority after the Mars 2020 rover and Europa Multiple-Flyby Mission.

Launch vehicles[edit]

The Space Launch System's planned upgrade path. The Uranus orbiter, if flown on the SLS, would be launched on a Block IB cargo configuration.

The launch vehicles considered for the probe have changed over the years, with the Atlas V 521, Ariane 5, and Soyuz-2 rockets all being considered.[11] Currently, the plan is for the Uranus orbiter to be launched on either the Atlas V 551[2] or Space Launch System Block IB.[1]


In the baseline concept, the Uranus orbiter could be an ESA-NASA bilateral mission and launching on an Atlas V 551 on a Venus-Earth-Earth-Jupiter gravity-assisted interplanetary transfer to Uranus[2] with a cruise phase lasting 12.8 years and arrival in 2037. The Atlas V-launched version would also have a three-NEXT solar electric propulsion tug that is detached after 2 years of the cruise to Uranus.[11] It could also be launched on a Space Launch System Block IB on a direct interplanetary transfer to Uranus.[1] If selected and launched, it would become the first spacecraft to enter into orbit around Uranus.

Design and construction[edit]


The Uranus orbiter was planned to be powered by Advanced Stirling radioisotope generators, but has since switched to being powered by conventional Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators upon the ASRG's cancellation. The MMRTGs expected to be used on the Uranus orbiter will each produce about 110 watts of power at the start of the mission.

Scientific payload[edit]

The scientific payload includes a narrow angle camera, visible/near-IR imaging spectrometer, thermal IR bolometer, radio science, magnetometer, radio and plasma wave detector, and a plasma detector. It may also use leftover hardware from previous NASA and ESA interplanetary probe missions, namely New Horizons's body[4] and a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator similar to Curiosity and the Mars 2020 rover's.[1]

The following six instruments are considered essential to the mission:

  • Camera (Wide and Narrow Angle) - Designed to image the planet at the same level of detail as missions to the two gas giants have provided
  • VIS-NIR Image Spectrometer
  • Magnetometer - To study the magnetic field of Uranus
  • Mass Spectrometer (Ions and Neutrals, INMS)
  • Doppler Spectro-Imager - To take seismic measurements
  • Microwave Radiometer

The following two additional instruments are strongly desired by the mission proposers:

  • Energetic Neutral Atoms Detector - To complement the measurements of the INMS
  • High-sensitivity Accelerometer - To be used in the atmospheric descent phase of the probe


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Robert DaLee (2013). "Space Launch System: Exploration, Science, Security" (PDF). Boeing. Retrieved 3 September 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Mark Hofstadter (24 August 2009). "Ice Giant Science: The Case for a Uranus Orbiter" (PDF). JPL/Caltech. Retrieved 3 September 2016. 
  3. ^ Chris Gebhardt (20 November 2013). "New SLS mission options explored via new Large Upper Stage". NASASpaceFlight. Retrieved 3 September 2016. 
  4. ^ a b R. M. Smith; et al. (2010). "HORUS - Herschel Orbit Reconnaissance of the Uranian System" (PDF). Lunar and Planetary Institute. Retrieved 3 September 2016. 
  5. ^ "Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013–2022" (PDF). The National Academies Press. Retrieved 3 September 2016. 
  6. ^ Michael Schirber (October 13, 2011). "Missions Proposed to Explore Mysterious Tilted Planet Uranus". Space.com. Retrieved 3 September 2016. 
  7. ^ "The ODINUS Mission". Istituto di Astrofisica e Planetologia Spaziali. Retrieved 3 September 2016. 
  8. ^ William B. Hubbard (June 3, 2010). "Ice Giants Decadal Study" (PDF). NASA. Retrieved 3 September 2016. 
  9. ^ Mark Hofstadter; et al. "The Case for a Uranus Orbiter" (PDF). JPL/Caltech. Retrieved 3 September 2016. 
  10. ^ Mark Hofstadter; et al. "The Atmospheres of the Ice Giants, Uranus and Neptune" (PDF). JPL/Caltech. Retrieved 3 September 2016. 
  11. ^ a b Chris Arridge; et al. "Uranus Pathfinder: Exploring the Origins and Evolution of Ice Giant Planets" (PDF). University of Leicester. Retrieved 3 September 2016.