NASA has zeroed in on five key spaceflight missions in its quest to explore Venus, near-earth objects and a variety of asteroids beginning as early as 2020.
The US space agency has selected five science investigations for refinement during the next year as a first step in choosing one or two missions for flight opportunities as early as 2020.
The submitted proposals would study Venus, near-Earth objects and a variety of asteroids, NASA said.
Each investigation team will receive USD 3 million to conduct concept design studies and analyses. After a detailed review and evaluation of the concept studies, NASA will make the final selections by September 2016 for continued development leading up to launch.
Any selected mission will cost approximately USD 500 million, not including launch vehicle funding or the cost of post-launch operations, NASA said.
“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.
“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,” said Grunsfeld.
NASA’s Discovery Programme requested proposals for spaceflight investigations in November 2014. A panel of NASA and other scientists and engineers reviewed 27 submissions.
The planetary missions associated with Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California that were selected to pursue concept design studies includes The Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy mission (VERITAS).
VERITAS would produce global, high-resolution topography and imaging of Venus’ surface and produce the first maps of deformation and global surface composition.
‘Psyche’ mission would explore the origin of planetary cores by studying the metallic asteroid Psyche. This asteroid is likely the survivor of a violent hit-and-run with another object that stripped off the outer, rocky layers of a protoplanet.
Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam) would discover 10 times more near-Earth objects than all NEOs discovered to date. It would also begin to characterise them.
The two other selections are: 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 there are volcanoes active today on the surface of Venus and how the surface interacts with the atmosphere of the planet.
‘Lucy’ mission would perform the first reconnaissance of the Jupiter Trojan asteroids, objects thought to hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system.