The ETNA mission concept: Assessing the habitability of an active ocean world

Ariel N. Deutsch* (Corresponding Author), Paolo Panicucci, Laura I. Tenelanda-Osorio, Victoria Da Poian, Yun H. Cho, Chandrakanth Venigalla, Thasshwin Mathanlal, Emiliano Castillo Specia, Graciela González Peytaví, Andrea Guarriello, Onalli Gunasekara, Lewis Jones, Mariya Krasteva, Jennifer Pouplin, Nicole Villanueva, Sam Zaref

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
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Enceladus is an icy world with potentially habitable conditions, as suggested by the coincident presence of a subsurface ocean, an active energy source due to water-rock interactions, and the basic chemical ingredients necessary for terrestrial life. Among all ocean worlds in our Solar System, Enceladus is the only active body that provides direct access to its ocean through the ongoing expulsion of subsurface material from erupting plumes. Here we present the Enceladus Touchdown aNalyzing Astrobiology (ETNA) mission, a concept designed during the 2019 Caltech Space Challenge. ETNA’s goals are to determine whether Enceladus provides habitable conditions and what (pre-) biotic signatures characterize Enceladus. ETNA would sample and analyze expelled plume materials at the South Polar Terrain (SPT) during plume fly-throughs and landed operations. An orbiter includes an ultraviolet imaging spectrometer, an optical camera, and radio science and a landed laboratory includes an ion microscope and mass spectrometer suite, temperature sensors, and an optical camera, plus three seismic geophones deployed during landing. The nominal mission timeline is 2 years in the Saturnian system and ∼1 year in Enceladus orbit with landed operations. The detailed exploration of Enceladus’ plumes and SPT would achieve broad and transformational Solar System science related to the building of habitable worlds and the presence of life elsewhere. The nature of such a mission is particularly timely and relevant given the recently released Origins, Worlds, and Life: A Decadal Strategy for Planetary Science and Astrobiology 2023–2032, which includes a priority recommendation for the dedicated exploration of Enceladus and its habitable potential.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1028357
Number of pages26
JournalFrontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences
Early online date14 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 14 Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The contributing authors are/were all students who participated in the fifth Caltech Space Challenge, which was sponsored and supported by Lockheed Martin, Keck Institute for Space Sciences, Northrop Grumman, Aerospace Corporation, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, GALcit, the Moore-Hufstedler Fund, and Caltech.

Data Availability Statement

The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article/Supplementary Material, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.

The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online at:


  • astrobiology
  • biosignatures
  • Enceladus
  • habitability
  • mission concept
  • New Frontiers
  • plume sample analysis
  • seismic network


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