LIFE: Life Investigation For EnceladusA Sample Return Mission Concept in Search for Evidence of Life

Peter Tsou, Donald E. Brownlee, Christopher P. McKay, Ariel D. Anbar, Hajime Yano, Kathrin Altwegg, Luther W. Beegle, Richard Dissly, Nathan J. Strange, Isik Kanik
2012 Astrobiology  
Life Investigation For Enceladus (LIFE) presents a low-cost sample return mission to Enceladus, a body with high astrobiological potential. There is ample evidence that liquid water exists under ice coverage in the form of active geysers in the "tiger stripes" area of the southern Enceladus hemisphere. This active plume consists of gas and ice particles and enables the sampling of fresh materials from the interior that may originate from a liquid water source. The particles consist mostly of
more » ... er ice and are 1-10 l in diameter. The plume composition shows H 2 O, CO 2 , CH 4 , NH 3 , Ar, and evidence that more complex organic species might be present. Since life on Earth exists whenever liquid water, organics, and energy coexist, understanding the chemical components of the emanating ice particles could indicate whether life is potentially present on Enceladus. The icy worlds of the outer planets are testing grounds for some of the theories for the origin of life on Earth. The LIFE mission concept is envisioned in two parts: first, to orbit Saturn (in order to achieve lower sampling speeds, approaching 2 km/s, and thus enable a softer sample collection impact than Stardust, and to make possible multiple flybys of Enceladus); second, to sample Enceladus' plume, the E ring of Saturn, and the Titan upper atmosphere. With new findings from these samples, NASA could provide detailed chemical and isotopic and, potentially, biological compositional context of the plume. Since the duration of the Enceladus plume is unpredictable, it is imperative that these samples are captured at the earliest flight opportunity. If LIFE is launched before 2019, it could take advantage of a Jupiter gravity assist, which would thus reduce mission lifetimes and launch vehicle costs. The LIFE concept offers science returns comparable to those of a Flagship mission but at the measurably lower sample return costs of a Discovery-class mission.
doi:10.1089/ast.2011.0813 pmid:22970863 fatcat:hsfocd7g65hjvfsaqjhru2cupm