Missions To Mars, One Of Saturn's Moons, And A Comet All Under
NASA has selected three science investigations from which it
will pick one potential 2016 mission. The possibilities are a look
at Mars' interior for the first time; study of an extraterrestrial
sea on one of Saturn's moons; or study in unprecedented detail the
surface of a comet's nucleus.
Each investigation team will receive $3 million to conduct its
mission's concept phase or preliminary design studies and analyses.
After another detailed review in 2012 of the concept studies, NASA
will select one to continue development efforts leading up to
launch. The selected mission will be cost-capped at $425 million,
not including launch vehicle funding.
NASA's Discovery Program requested proposals for spaceflight
investigations in June 2010. A panel of NASA and other scientists
and engineers reviewed 28 submissions. The selected investigations
could reveal much about the formation of our solar system and its
dynamic processes. Three technology developments for possible
future planetary missions also were selected.
"NASA continues to do extraordinary science that is re-writing
textbooks," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "Missions like
these hold great promise to vastly increase our knowledge, extend
our reach into the solar system and inspire future generations of
The planetary missions selected to pursue preliminary design
- Geophysical Monitoring Station (GEMS) would study the structure
and composition of the interior of Mars and advance understanding
of the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets. Bruce
Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA,
is principal investigator. JPL would manage the project.
- Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) would provide the first direct
exploration of an ocean environment beyond Earth by landing in, and
floating on, a large methane-ethane sea on Saturn's moon Titan.
Ellen Stofan of Proxemy Research Inc. in Gaithersburg, MD, is
principal investigator. Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics
Laboratory in Laurel, MD, would manage the project.
- Comet Hopper would study cometary evolution by landing on a
comet multiple times and observing its changes as it interacts with
the sun. Jessica Sunshine of the University of Maryland in College
Park is principal investigator. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
in Greenbelt, MD, would manage the project.
"This is high science return at a price that’s right,"
said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division
in Washington. "The selected studies clearly demonstrate a new era
with missions that all touch their targets to perform unique and
The three selected technology development proposals will expand
the ability to catalog near-Earth objects, or NEOs; enhance the
capability to determine the composition of comet ices; and validate
a new method to reveal the population of objects in the poorly
understood, far-distant part of our solar system. During the next
several years, selected teams will receive funding that is
determined through contract negotiations to bring their respective
technologies to a higher level of readiness. To be considered for
flight, teams must demonstrate progress in a future mission
The proposals selected for technology development are:
- Primitive Material Explorer (PriME) would develop a mass
spectrometer that would provide highly precise measurements of the
chemical composition of a comet and explore the objects' role in
delivering volatiles to Earth. Anita Cochran of the University of
Texas in Austin is principal investigator.
- Whipple: Reaching into the Outer Solar System would develop and
validate a technique called blind occultation that could lead to
the discovery of various celestial objects in the outer solar
system and revolutionize our understanding of the area's structure.
Charles Alcock of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in
Cambridge, Mass., is principal investigator.
- NEOCam would develop a telescope to study the origin and
evolution of NEOs and study the present risk of Earth-impact. It
would generate a catalog of objects and accurate infrared
measurements to provide a better understanding of small bodies that
cross our planet's orbit. Amy Mainzer of JPL is principal
Created in 1992, the Discovery Program sponsors frequent,
cost-capped solar system exploration missions with highly focused
scientific goals. The program's 11 missions include MESSENGER,
Dawn, Stardust, Deep Impact and Genesis. NASA's Marshall Space
Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., manages the program for the
agency's Science Mission Directorate.