NASA Selects Four Finalists for Next Discovery Mission

 In C4ISR, GDI, Space

The VERITAS Venus orbiter mis­sion, seen above in a ver­sion pro­posed in the prior round of the Discovery pro­gram, is one of the four final­ists for the latest round of NASA’s pro­gram of low-cost plan­e­tary sci­ence mis­sions. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

WASHINGTON — NASA is con­sid­er­ing mis­sions to Venus and two outer solar system moons as the next in its Discovery line of plan­e­tary sci­ence mis­sions.

NASA announced Feb. 13 it select­ed four final­ists in the next round of the Discovery pro­gram from an unspec­i­fied number of pro­pos­als sub­mit­ted last summer. Each of the mis­sion pro­pos­als will receive $3 mil­lion for what are known as Phase A con­cept stud­ies to be com­plet­ed in nine months. NASA will select up to two of the mis­sions for devel­op­ment in 2021.

“These select­ed mis­sions have the poten­tial to trans­form our under­stand­ing of some of the solar system’s most active and com­plex worlds,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, asso­ciate admin­is­tra­tor for sci­ence at NASA, in an agency state­ment about the selec­tions.

Two of the final­ists would go to Venus, a planet last vis­it­ed by NASA with a ded­i­cat­ed mis­sion by the Magellan orbiter in the early 1990s. The Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus, or DAVINCI+, mis­sion includes an orbiter and a probe that would descend through the planet’s dense atmos­phere to mea­sure its com­po­si­tion. Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy, or VERITAS, is a Venus orbiter that would map the sur­face using a syn­thet­ic aper­ture radar and also link infrared emis­sions from the sur­face to geo­log­i­cal fea­tures.

The other two pro­posed mis­sions seek to study moons in the outer solar system. Io Volcano Observer (IVO) would per­form a series of close flybys of Io, the inner­most of Jupiter’s four large moons and the most vol­cani­cal­ly active body in the solar system, to mon­i­tor that vol­canic activ­i­ty. Trident would make a single close flyby of Triton, Neptune’s largest moon, which has plumes erupt­ing from its sur­face that could be linked to a sub­sur­face ocean.

Discovery is NASA’s line of rel­a­tive­ly low-cost plan­e­tary sci­ence mis­sions, less expen­sive than New Frontiers or flag­ship-class space­craft. Missions select­ed in this round of the Discovery pro­gram would have a cost cap, exclud­ing launch and oper­a­tions, of $500 mil­lion. Those mis­sions would launch in one of two win­dows, one from January 2025 through December 2026 and the other from July 2028 through December 2029.

Earlier in the Discovery pro­gram, NASA select­ed one mis­sion at a time, but in the pre­vi­ous round of the pro­gram that con­clud­ed in early 2017 decid­ed to select two. NASA spaced out the com­pe­ti­tions in part to address the time and expense sci­en­tists incur devel­op­ing pro­pos­als, while select­ing mul­ti­ple mis­sions at a time to main­tain an aver­age of one mis­sion every 24 months.

In that last Discovery com­pe­ti­tion, ver­sions of both DAVINCI+ (then known as DAVINCI) and VERITAS were two of five final­ists. NASA, though, select­ed two aster­oid mis­sions, Lucy and Psyche, for devel­op­ment, while pro­vid­ing addi­tion­al fund­ing for a third, NEOCam, to sup­port devel­op­ment of its instru­ment to search for near Earth objects (NEOs). Lucy and Psyche remain on sched­ule for launch­es in October 2021 and 2022 respec­tive­ly, while NEOCam has evolved to the NEO Surveillance Mission, a direct­ed mis­sion that will not com­pete with other sci­ence mis­sions.

Suzanne Smrekar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who was the prin­ci­pal inves­ti­ga­tor on the ear­li­er VERITAS mis­sion pro­pos­al, is again lead­ing the new VERITAS pro­pos­al. DAVINCI+ has Jim Garvin of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as its prin­ci­pal inves­ti­ga­tor. Lori Glaze, who led the ear­li­er DAVINCI mis­sion pro­pos­al, is now the direc­tor of NASA’s plan­e­tary sci­ence divi­sion.

Source: SpaceNews

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