An influential panel of scientists believes that NASA should prioritize sending a research mission to Uranus – the seventh planet in our solar system. The only spacecraft to visit Uranus was the Voyager 2 probe, which flew past the planet in 1986. It discovered new satellites and rings around the planet, and then headed into interstellar space.
The recommendation is made in a document published by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS), known as a decadal survey. It is compiled every 10 years by teams of planetary scientists detailing top priorities for planetary exploration over the next decade.
Specifically, the researchers are calling on NASA to create the Uranus Orbiter and Probe, or UOP. The mission concept involves sending a spacecraft into orbit around Uranus, along with a probe that will dive into the planet's atmosphere. Scientists estimate that if engineers begin development as early as next year, the mission could launch in the early 2030s.
Researchers believe that the in-depth study of Uranus may help them better understand the many objects of similar size found around other stars.
NASA has generally followed the recommendations of previous reports. In the last planetary decadal survey, published in 2011, the top two priorities were a rock-collecting mission to Mars (which became the Perseverance rover, now on the surface of Mars) and a mission to Jupiter and its satellite Europa (currently being prepared for launch in 2024, called Europa Clipper).