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Searching for Organics on the Dwarf Planet Ceres

Creative Commons 'BY-NC-SA' version 4.0 license

The Herschel Space Observatory recently detected the presence of water vapor in observations of Ceres, bringing it into the crosshairs of the search for the building blocks of life in the solar system. I present a mission concept designed in collaboration with the NASA Ames Research Center for a two-probe mission to the dwarf planet Ceres, utilizing a pair of small low-cost spacecraft. The primary spacecraft will carry both a mass and an infrared spectrometer to characterize the detected vapor. Shortly after its arrival a second and largely similar spacecraft will impact Ceres to create an impact ejecta “plume” timed to enable a rendezvous and sampling by the primary spacecraft. This enables additional subsurface chemistry, volatile content and material characterization, and new science complementary to the Dawn spacecraft, the first to arrive at Ceres. Science requirements, candidate instruments, rendezvous trajectories, spacecraft design and comparison with Dawn science are detailed.

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