NASA's Planetary Program Picks Three Mission Candidates Plus Three Technology Development Projects

NASA's Planetary Program Picks Three Mission Candidates Plus Three Technology Development Projects

NASA announced today its selection of three planetary mission candidates as part of its Discovery program, as well as three planetary exploration-related technology development projects.

Next year, one of the three mission candidates will be selected for a 2016 launch. In the meantime, each project team will receive $3 million to conduct the concept phase or preliminary design studies and analyses. The three, which were chosen from 28 submissions, are the following:

  • Geophysical Monitoring Station (GES) to study the interior of Mars (Bruce Banerdt, JPL, principal investigator; JPL would manage the project),
  • Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) to land in and float on a methane-ethane sea on Saturn’s Moon Titan (Ellen Stofan, Proxemy Research, principal investigator; Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab would manage the project), and
  • Comet Hopper to land on a comet multiple times and observe its changes as it interacts with the Sun (Jessica Sunshine, University of Maryland, principal investigator; NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center would manage the project)

Discovery missions are cost-capped at $425 million not including launch costs. Eleven spacecraft in the Discovery series have been launched so far, including the MESSENGER spacecraft that recently entered orbit around Mercury.

NASA also selected three technology development proposals. Each team will receive an amount of money yet to be negotiated to bring the technologies to a higher level of readiness. The three that were selected are the following:

  • Primitive Material Explorer (PME) to develop a mass spectrometer that can provide highly precise measurements of the chemical composition of a comet and the role of comets in delivering volatiles to Earth (Anita Cochran, University of Texas at Austin, principal investigator),
  • Whipple: Reaching into the Outer Solar System to develop and validate a technique called blind occultation that could lead to discovery of various celestial objects in the outer solar system (Charles Alcock, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, MA, principal investigator), and
  • NEOCam to develop a telescope to study the origin and evolution of Near Earth Objects (NEOs) — comets and asteroids — and study the present risk of Earth impact (Amy Mainzer, JPL, principal investigator)

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