NASA Picks Two Venus, Three Asteroid Missions As Discovery Semifinalists

NASA Picks Two Venus, Three Asteroid Missions As Discovery Semifinalists

NASA announced the five proposals that it has selected for further development under the Discovery program in the Planetary Science Division.  Two would study Venus, while the other three would study asteroids.  One newsworthy aspect of the announcement is that four of the five principal investigators are women.

Discovery missions are mid-sized missions with a cost cap of $500 million not including launch or post-launch operations.  The program was initiated in 1992 to provide regular opportunities for scientists to compete to develop and launch planetary exploration missions. The missions not only are cost capped, but the development time from mission start to launch can be no more than 36 months.  The goal is to launch a Discovery mission at least every two years, though that is budget dependent.

NASA has launched 11 Discovery missions so far and a 12th, InSight, is scheduled for launch next year.  They span a range of research interests.  The first Discovery mission, NEAR, was the first spacecraft to orbit an asteroid (Eros).  The most recent, InSight, will land on Mars to study the structure of its interior by using a seismometer and heat flow package.  Among the 10 in between were spacecraft that studied the Moon, Mercury, and a comet nucleus, and two returned samples of interstellar dust and atoms of the solar wind.  Perhaps the best known today is Kepler, which searched for — and found — exoplanets.

The five selected today will receive $3 million each to further develop their plans.  One of the five will be chosen for full development in September 2016.  They are:

  • DAVINCI.   Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry and Imaging.   Principal Investigator: Lori Glaze, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.  Goddard would manage the project.
  • VERITAS.  Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy mission.  Principal Investigator: Suzanne Smrekar, JPL.  JPL would manage the project.
  • Psyche.  A mission to explore the origin of planetary cores by studying the metallic asteroid Psyche that “is likely the survivor of a violent hit-and-run with another object.”  Principal Investigator: Linda Elkins-Tanton, Arizona State University.  JPL would manage the project.
  • NEOCam.  Near Earth Object Camera, to discover asteroids and comets, generically called Near Earth Objects (NEOs).  Principal Investigator:  Amy Mainzer, JPL. JPL would manage the project.
  • Lucy.  A mission to perform the first reconnaissance of the Jupiter Trojan asteroids.  Principal Investigator:  Harold Levison, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder.  Goddard would manage the project.

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