Venus and asteroids are on NASA’s mind for future space missions

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This perspective view of the geology of Venus superposed on topography shows a broad topographic rise (Atla Regio) in the center (red, with radiating purple spokes) and surrounding volcanic plains (green and blue). CREDIT: Ivanov/Head/Dickson/Brown University

Out of a total 27 science investigation submissions, US space agency NASA has shortlisted 5 for further refinement from which only 2 will be selected for flight opportunities as early as 2020, the agency has announced.

It is evident from the shortlist that NASA has either Venus or asteroids or both in mind as far as near-future planetary missions are concerned. NASA revealed that each of these five science investigation projects will received $3 million for concept design studies and analyses.

In September 2016, NASA will be conducting a detailed review and analysis of these five missions again and eventually select two. Each of these two projects will end up costing the space agency approximately 500 million excluding launch vehicle funding or the cost of post-launch operations, the agency 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 in Washington. “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.”

The projects will be a part of NASA’s Discovery Program. Initially the space agency had requested proposals for spaceflight investigations in November 2014 and post the submissions, a panel of NASA and other scientists and engineers reviewed 27 submissions.

The Discovery program was created in 1992 and has to its credit some of he most successful missions to date including MESSENGER, Dawn, Stardust, Deep Impact, Genesis and GRAIL.

The five planetary missions that have been selected to pursue concept design studies 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. Lori Glaze of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is the principal investigator. Goddard would manage the project.

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. Suzanne Smrekar of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California is the principal investigator. JPL would manage the project.

Psyche

Psyche 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. Linda Elkins-Tanton of Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona is the principal investigator. JPL would manage the project.

Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam)

NEOCAM would discover ten times more near-Earth objects than all NEOs discovered to date. It would also begin to characterize them. Amy Mainzer of JPL is the principal investigator, and JPL would manage the project.

Lucy

Lucy would perform the first reconnaissance of the Jupiter Trojan asteroids, objects thought to hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system. Harold Levison of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado is the principal investigator. Goddard would manage the project.