NASA gives four projects $3 million to develop potential space missions

NASA selects four finalists for next Discovery mission

NASA selects four finalists for next Discovery mission

Two of the missions could end up getting off the ground. This will analyse Venus's atmosphere to understand how it was formed and evolved, and if it ever had an ocean. The Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus, or DAVINCI+, mission includes an orbiter and a probe that would descend through the planet's dense atmosphere to measure its composition.

"These selected missions have the potential to transform our understanding of some of the solar system's most active and complex worlds", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA, in an agency statement about the selections.

The other two are Io Volcano Observer, which would observe Io, Jupiter's volcanically active moon, during a series of close flybys; and Trident, which would gather images and data during a flyby of Triton, a moon of Neptune that may have an ocean beneath its icy surface. Two proposals are for trips to Venus, and one each is for Jupiter's moon Io and Neptune's moon Triton. Another Venus-focused mission called VERITAS or Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy would travel to the planet to create detailed, three-dimensional maps of its surface. The Discovery Program develops relatively low-priced robotic-exploration efforts; each one is capped at $500 million, excluding costs for the launch vehicle and mission operations.

The teams behind the four mission concepts will each receive $3 million to continue maturing their ideas over the next nine months, culminating in the submission of study reports to NASA. Indeed, that happened during the previous Discovery round; in January 2017, NASA announced that both the Lucy and Psyche missions would proceed to launch (in 2021 and 2022, respectively).

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