Following up on its history of successful explorations from Mercury to the icy bodies of the outer solar system, NASA’s upcoming mission proposals include an ambitious program of robotic and human visits to the surfaces of the Moon, Mars and its moons, and near-Earth asteroids.
The CLASS science focus is at the intersection of surface science and surface exploration; concentrating on these areas will yield important scientific results while also enabling future exploration and maximizing the scientific return from future missions. Specific research tasks are designed to maximize the cross-disciplinary collaboration that is the hallmark of CLASS.
Surface materials are the repository of fundamental information on the origin, impact history, geology, mineralogy, resource potential, and geochemical evolution of their parent bodies. These same properties also directly affect designs for exploration hardware, the parameters of mission planning, and may provide insight into potential hazards for human and robotic explorers.
Before humans voyage to asteroids, back to the Moon, or to the moons of Mars, NASA will need an informed and comprehensive science approach to robotic investigation of the unique and complex environments of these exploration targets that will support exploration objectives. A key challenge is to understand the various processes that create, evolve, and shape the surfaces of exploration targets. CLASS attacks this problem by matching the wide range of processes with the same wide range of disciplines, with the goal of enabling safe and effective exploration activities.
Each research component is presented here as a standalone project, but each has been selected for their potential experimental, theoretical, and observational synergy with one other and all the Co-I’s and Collaborators have been selected to enhance the cross-feed of ideas and expertise.
The CLASS cross-disciplinary approach to problem solving will leverage a range of resources that has already been developed in the southeastern United States and link them with the broader CLASS Network of worldwide interdisciplinary researchers. This includes:
- The Florida Space Institute (FSI), which has a mandate funded by the State of Florida to advance development of space related research, education, and industry in Florida.
- The University of Central Florida’s (UCF) Planetary Sciences Group, which has extensive experience in asteroid remote sensing, Phobos/Deimos science, meteorite and asteroid physical properties, microgravity research, dust orbital dynamics, and charged dust dynamics and transport.
- UCF’s Center for Microgravity Research, which was established jointly by UCF, FSI, and Space Florida (the State of Florida’s aerospace economic development agency) to support planetary exploration by investigating the physics of microgravity interactions on small bodies.
- Kennedy Space Center’s (KSC) Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations (GMRO) Laboratory and the Electrostatics and Surface Physics (ESP) Laboratory in the Surface Systems Office, which provides a state-of-the-art research facility known as the “Swamp Works” for studies of the response of the regolith to exploration activities. KSC’s engineering expertise and applied technology link well into a scientific program of surface science.
- Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), which is a center for research on hydrated mineral formation on small-body surfaces along with the development of exploration hardware.
- The University of Florida’s (UF) Department of Geology, which brings expertise in the physics of planetary interiors, early Earth processes, and meteoritics.