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1st October 2015

NASA selects five candidate missions for early 2020s unmanned exploration

As part of its Discovery Program, NASA has selected five unmanned mission concepts that will be refined over the next year, with one or two being chosen for launch in the early 2020s. The submitted proposals would study Venus, near-Earth objects and a variety of asteroids.

Created in 1992, the Discovery Program specialises in low-cost, unmanned exploration missions with highly focused scientific goals. The program has funded and developed 12 missions to date – including MESSENGER, Dawn, Stardust, Deep Impact, Genesis and GRAIL, and is currently completing development of InSight.

For this latest mission selection, each of the investigation teams will receive $3 million to perform concept design studies and analyses. Following a detailed review and evaluation, NASA will make the final choices by September 2016 for continued development leading up to launch. Any selected mission will cost approximately $500 million, not including launch vehicle funding or post-launch operations.

"The selected investigations have the potential to reveal much about the formation of our solar system and its dynamic processes,” said John Grunsfeld – astronaut and associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Dynamic and exciting missions like these hold promise to unravel the mysteries of our solar system and inspire future generations of explorers. It’s an incredible time for science, and NASA is leading the way.”

Proposals for spaceflight concepts were requested back in November 2014. A panel of scientists and engineers reviewed 27 submissions and this week narrowed it down to the remaining five candidates:


  nasa mission 1   Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging (DAVINCI)

DAVINCI would study the chemical composition of Venus' atmosphere during a 63-minute descent. It would answer scientific questions that have been considered high priorities for many years, such as whether volcanoes are active today on the surface of Venus and how the surface interacts with the atmosphere of the planet.


  nasa mission 4   The Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy mission (VERITAS)

VERITAS would produce global topography and imaging of Venus' surface with a spatial resolution of 30m globally, down to as low as 15m for some areas of the planet. It would create the first detailed maps of deformation and global surface composition. These capabilities would be an order of magnitude or better than the earlier Magellan spacecraft (pictured) – revealing definitive information on key geologic processes not possible with Magellan's data.


  nasa mission 2   Psyche orbiter

Psyche would explore the origin of planetary cores by studying the metallic asteroid Psyche, one of the largest bodies in the main belt. This asteroid has a powerful magnetic field. It is likely the result of a violent hit-and-run with another object that stripped off the outer layers of a protoplanet.


  nasa mission 3   Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam)

NEOCAM would discover ten times more near-Earth objects than all NEOs discovered to date. It would also begin to characterise them.


  nasa mission 5   Lucy

Lucy would perform the first reconnaissance of the Jupiter Trojan asteroids – objects thought to hold vital clues about the history of the solar system.


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