Ice Giant System Exploration in the 2020s: An Introduction
journal contributionposted on 01.10.2020, 08:56 by LN Fletcher, AA Simon, MD Hofstadter, CS Arridge, I Cohen, A Masters, K Mandt, A Coustenis
The international planetary science community met in London in January 2020, united in the goal of realising the first dedicated robotic mission to the distant Ice Giants, Uranus and Neptune, as the only major class of Solar System planet yet to be comprehensively explored. Ice-Giant-sized worlds appear to be a common outcome of the planet formation process, and pose unique and extreme tests of our understanding of planetary origins, exotic water-rich planetary interiors, dynamic seasonal atmospheres, complex magnetospheric configurations, geologically-rich icy satellites (both natural and captured), and delicate planetary rings. This article introduces a special issue of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A on Ice Giant System exploration at the start of the 2020s. We review the scientific potential and existing mission design concepts for an ambitious international partnership for exploring Uranus and/or Neptune in the coming decades.