Press Release

NASA Announces Discovery Program Selections

By SpaceRef Editor
October 30, 2006
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NASA Announces Discovery Program Selections

NASA Monday selected concept studies for missions that would return a sample of an enigmatic asteroid, probe the chemistry of Venus’ atmosphere and reveal the interior structure and history of the Earth’s moon.

Also selected for further study are three missions of opportunity that would make new use of two NASA spacecraft that have completed their primary objectives.

“The science community astounded us with the creativity of their proposals,” said NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Mary Cleave. “We look forward to the new knowledge of our solar system that these concepts may provide.”

Three missions were selected for concept studies:

— The Origins Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification and Security (OSIRIS) mission would survey an asteroid and provide the first return of asteroid surface material samples to Earth. Michael Drake of the University of Arizona, Tucson, is OSIRIS’s principal investigator. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., would manage the project.

— The Vesper mission is a Venus chemistry and dynamics orbiter that would advance our knowledge of the planet’s atmospheric composition and dynamics. Gordon Chin of Goddard is Vesper’s principal investigator. Goddard would manage the project.

— The Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission would use high-quality gravity field mapping of the moon to determine the moon’s interior structure. Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass., is GRAIL’s principal investigator. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., would manage the project.

The three missions of opportunity selected for concept studies are:

— The Deep Impact eXtended Investigation of Comets (DIXI) mission would use the existing Deep Impact spacecraft for an extended flyby mission to a second comet to take pictures of its nucleus to increase our understanding of the diversity of comets. Michael A’Hearn of the University of Maryland, College Park, Md., is DIXI’s principal investigator.

— The Extrasolar Planet Observations and Characterization (EPOCh) mission would use the high-resolution camera on the Deep Impact spacecraft to search for the first Earth-sized planets detected around other stars. L. Drake Deming of Goddard is EPOCh’s principal investigator.

— The Stardust NExT mission would use the existing Stardust spacecraft to flyby comet Tempel 1 and observe changes since the Deep Impact mission visited it in 2005. In 2005, Tempel 1 has made its closest approach to the sun, possibly changing the surface of the comet. Joseph Veverka of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., is NExT’s principal investigator.

These proposals were among approximately two dozen submitted in response to NASA’s Discovery Program 2006 Announcement of Opportunity in April. The announcement solicited two types of investigations: complete missions to design, build and fly new spacecraft to accomplish specific planetary science objectives; and missions of opportunity that propose scientific uses for existing spacecraft or build instrumentation for spacecraft of other space agencies.

NASA may select one or more investigations to continue into a development effort after detailed review of the concept studies. Decisions about which mission concepts will proceed to development are expected next year.

New missions will receive $1.2 million to conduct concept studies. If selected for continuation beyond the concept phase, each project must complete its mission, including archiving and analyzing data, for less than $425 million.

Missions of opportunities will receive $250,000 to conduct concept studies. If selected for continuation, each mission of opportunity must complete its project, including data archive and analysis, for less than $35 million.

For more information about the Discovery Program, visit:

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SpaceRef staff editor.