, Volume 105, Issue 2-4, pp 143-152
Date: 28 Feb 2009

Ground-Based Observational Support for Spacecraft Exploration of the Outer Planets

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Abstract

This report presents both a retrospective of ground-based support for spacecraft missions to the outer solar system and a perspective of support for future missions. Past support is reviewed in a series of case studies involving the author. The most basic support is essential, providing the mission with information without which the planned science would not have been accomplished. Another is critical, without which science would have been returned, but missing a key element in its understanding. Some observations are enabling by accomplishing one aspect of an experiment which would otherwise not have been possible. Other observations provide a perspective of the planet as a whole which is not available to instruments with narrow fields of view and limited spatial coverage, sometimes motivating a re-prioritizing of experiment objectives. Ground-based support is also capable of providing spectral coverage not present in the complement of spacecraft instruments. Earth-based observations also have the capability of filling in gaps of spacecraft coverage of atmospheric phenomena, as well as providing surveillance of longer-term behavior than the coverage available to the mission. Future missions benefiting from ground-based support would include the Juno mission to Jupiter in the next decade, a flagship-class mission to the Jupiter or to the Saturn systems currently under consideration, and possible intermediate-class missions which might be proposed in NASA’s New Frontiers category. One of the principal benefits of future 30 m-class giant telescopes would be to improve the spatial resolution of maps of temperature and composition which are derived from observations of thermal emission at mid-infrared and longer wavelengths. In many situations, this spatial resolution is competitive with those of the relevant instruments on the spacecraft themselves.