Uranus has long been the butt of jokes, but the ice giant is finally getting its day in the sun, thanks to a recommendation in the National Academies’ newly released survey of potential interplanetary missions.
The decadal survey, drawn up by teams of scientists, serves as a roadmap for research in planetary science and astrobiology over the next 10 years. And the survey’s highest priority for multibillion-dollar flagship missions is to send an orbiter and a piggyback atmospheric probe to Uranus (preferably pronounced “urine-us,” not “your-anus”). Launch would come as early as 2031 or 2032, when the orbital mechanics are optimal for a multibillion-mile cruise.
In preparation for this decadal survey, a team of scientists led by NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory drew up preliminary plans for a mission to Uranus or its ice-giant neighbor, Neptune. Separately, Purdue University researchers developed a mission concept called OCEANUS (Observatory Capture Exploring the Atmospheric Nature of Uranus and Neptune) that included a Saturn flyby as well as a years-long study of Uranus.