Science Goals and Mission Concept for a Landed Investigation of MercuryOPEN ACCESS 

Carolyn M. Ernst, Nancy L. Chabot, Rachel L. Klima, Sanae Kubota, Gabe Rogers, Paul K. Byrne, Steven A. Hauck II, Kathleen E. Vander Kaaden, Ronald J. Vervack Jr., Sébastien Besse, David T. Blewett, Brett W. Denevi, Sander Goossens, Stephen J. Indyk, Noam R. Izenberg, Catherine L. Johnson, Lauren M. Jozwiak, Haje Korth, Ralph L. McNutt Jr., Scott L. Murchie, Patrick N. Peplowski, Jim M. Raines, Elizabeth B. Rampe, Michelle S. Thompson and Shoshana Z. Weider

The Planetary Science Journal, Volume 3, Number 3
Planetary Decadal Mission Concept Studies


“Mercury holds valuable clues to the distribution of elements at the birth of the solar system and how planets form and evolve in close proximity to their host stars. This Mercury Lander mission concept returns in situ measurements that address fundamental science questions raised by the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) mission’s pioneering exploration of Mercury. Such measurements are needed to understand Mercury’s unique mineralogy and geochemistry, characterize the proportionally massive core’s structure, measure the planet’s active and ancient magnetic fields at the surface, investigate the processes that alter the surface and produce the exosphere, and provide ground truth for remote data sets. The mission concept achieves one full Mercury year (∼88 Earth days) of surface operations with an 11-instrument, high-heritage payload delivered to a landing site within Mercury’s widely distributed low-reflectance material, and it addresses science goals encompassing geochemistry, geophysics, the Mercury space environment, and geology. The spacecraft launches in 2035, and the four-stage flight system uses a solar electric propulsion cruise stage to reach Mercury in 2045. Landing is at dusk to meet thermal requirements, permitting ∼30 hr of sunlight for initial observations. The radioisotope-powered lander continues operations through the Mercury night. Direct-to-Earth communication is possible for the initial 3 weeks of landed operations, drops out for 6 weeks, and resumes for the final month. Thermal conditions exceed lander operating temperatures shortly after sunrise, ending operations. Approximately 11 GB of data are returned to Earth. The cost estimate demonstrates that a Mercury Lander mission is feasible and compelling as a New Frontiers–class mission.”