Status Report

NASA Astrophysics Pioneers Community Announcement, Feb 2020

By SpaceRef Editor
February 20, 2020
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NASA announces that a new opportunity entitled ‘Astrophysics Pioneers’ will be added to the Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences 2020 (ROSES-2020) NASA Research Announcement. The Astrophysics Pioneers program element will solicit proposals for astrophysics suborbital and modest orbital science investigations that are (i) greater in cost and scope than what is possible within the Astrophysics Research and Analysis (APRA) program element of ROSES-2020 (APRA-2020) but are (ii) smaller in cost and scope than what is allowed within the Astrophysics Explorers Mission of Opportunity (MO) program. Science investigations are solicited that use the established platforms of CubeSats (including constellations), SmallSats launched as secondary payloads, major balloons missions, and International Space Station (ISS) attached payloads.  Technology development within the proposed project is allowed, but the primary review criterion will be the merit of the science investigation.  As with existing sub-orbital and small orbital class programs, a secondary review criterion will be the participation of graduate and undergraduate students, postdocs, and other early career team members.


All proposed investigations must be responsive to the science goals of the Astrophysics Division, as described in the 2014 NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) Science Plan and the 2018 NASA Strategic Plan. All proposed investigations are expected to be more capable than the suborbital-class CubeSat missions or balloon missions that are solicited within the APRA program.


PI-managed mission cost ranges (from project initiation through shutdown, publication, and archiving) allowed under this program are limited to $20M in real year dollars, not including launch. NASA will cover all launch and launch vehicle integration costs. NASA will provide launch for spaceflight launches via NASA’s CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI) or SMD’s rideshare program. For CubeSats and SmallSats, acceptable sizes range from 1U (~1.3kg) to ESPA and ESPA-grande class over a variety of form factors. NASA will provide launch to the ISS for ISS-attached payloads via NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) program, and the appropriate balloon launch vehicle for major balloon missions viaNASA’s Scientific Balloon Program.


These projects will be managed as research projects, not space flight projects, but with additional oversight beyond what is typical of APRA sub-orbital projects.  That oversight will include monthly reporting based on a pre-defined one-page template. The NASA Small Satellite and Special Projects Office (S3PO) at NASA Wallops Flight Facility (WFF) will provide oversight for NASA.


Pioneers projects will be selected through a two-step process. Following selection of the ROSES proposal, projects will develop a Concept Study Report (CSR), which will include a Project Plan, comprising an agreement between the PI and NASA on implementation approach, resources, cost, reviews, schedule, and other plans. The project will need to pass a Systems Requirements Review (SRR) upon delivery of the CSR in order to be approved to proceed from the formulation phase to implementation phase. Gate reviews, including the SRR, will be conducted by the S3PO and will include a Preliminary Design Review (PDR) and/or Critical Design Review (CDR), and Flight Readiness Review (FRR) per the draft schedule contained in the CSR.  


NASA anticipates releasing a draft Pioneers appendix to ROSES-2020 by late spring 2020 and a final version by June 2020. Proposals are anticipated to be due in September 2020 and selections announced in early 2021. NASA expects to select 2 or 3 projects, assuming the receipt of sufficiently meritorious proposals, and will continue into the implementation phase all that successfully pass the SRR/CSR review, subject to the availability of funding.


Questions about Pioneers should be addressed to Dr. Michael R. Garcia at NASA/HQ,  email:


SpaceRef staff editor.