Examining Conditions to Explore the Atmosphere of Uranus with Autonomous Gliders

Raymond LeBeau Jr., Goetz Bramesfeld, Sally Warning, Csaba Palotai, Jim Dreas, Justin Krofta, Joe Kirwen, Phillip Reyes


The atmospheric dynamics of the gas giant planets of the outer solar system has been a subject of much interest since the first observations of the Great Red Spot (GRS) more than three centuries ago. In the modern era, such “spots”, which are in fact large vortex features, have been seen on all four of the giant planets, along with a variety of other interesting dynamical features. Still, our view of these atmospheres is often that of surface, given that there is limited data about atmospheric changes with altitude on these planets. A key exception to this rule was the Galileo parachute probe dropped into the atmosphere of Jupiter in 1995. Galileo was followed by the ongoing Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, with the Huygens probe dropped into the atmosphere of Titan. A likely next target for an orbiter-atmospheric probe mission is one of the two remaining giant planets, Uranus and Neptune. This investigation considers the likely conditions to be encountered by a probe on Uranus, based on both observational data and meteorological simulations. These conditions are used to assess the potential of an autonomous glider as opposed to a parachute probe, including potential flight paths for such a mission. This analysis suggests that a glider could increase the mission duration by an order of magnitude while providing greater horizontal coverage compared to a parachute probe, significantly enhancing the mission return.

Note added by the Journal manager: An earlier form of this study was presented at the XXXI OSTIV Congress, Uvalde, Texas US, 8-15 August 2012 by R. LeBeau, G. Bramesfeld and S. Warning: Examining Atmospheric Conditions for the Potential Exploration of Gas Giant Vortices with Autonomous Gliders.


Meteorology, Atmospheric physics, Aerodynamics, Design

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