Tuesday, December 29, 2009

NASA ponders missions to Venus, asteroid, moon

In the coming decade, an unmanned NASA science probe may land on the surface of Venus or the moon, or return a chunk of an near-Earth asteroid.

The agency announced today it has narrowed to three the finalists for its next New Frontiers Program mission, to be launched by 2018 at a cost of no more than $650 million.

Here's the press release:

NASA Chooses Three Finalists for Future Space Science Mission to Venus, an Asteroid or the Moon

WASHINGTON -- NASA has selected three proposals as candidates for the agency's next space venture to another celestial body in our solar system. The final project selected in mid-2011 may provide a better understanding of Earth's formation or perhaps the origin of life on our planet.

The proposed missions would probe the atmosphere and crust of Venus; return a piece of a near-Earth asteroid for analysis; or drop a robotic lander into a basin at the moon's south pole to return lunar rocks back to Earth for study.

NASA will select one proposal for full development after detailed mission concept studies are completed and reviewed. The studies begin during 2010, and the selected mission must be ready for launch no later than Dec. 30, 2018. Mission cost, excluding the launch vehicle, is limited to $650 million.

"These are projects that inspire and excite young scientists, engineers and the public," said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "These three proposals provide the best science value among eight submitted to NASA this year."

Each proposal team initially will receive approximately $3.3 million in 2010 to conduct a 12-month mission concept study that focuses on implementation feasibility, cost, management and technical plans. Studies also will include plans for educational outreach and small business opportunities.

The selected proposals are:

-- The Surface and Atmosphere Geochemical Explorer, or SAGE, mission to Venus would release a probe to descend through the planet's atmosphere. During descent, instruments would conduct extensive measurements of the atmosphere's composition and obtain meteorological data. The probe then would land on the surface of Venus, where its abrading tool would expose both a weathered and a pristine surface area to measure its composition and mineralogy. Scientists hope to understand the origin of Venus and why it is so different from Earth. Larry Esposito of the University of Colorado in Boulder, is the principal investigator.

-- The Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer spacecraft, called Osiris-Rex, would rendezvous and orbit a primitive asteroid. After extensive measurements, instruments would collect more than two ounces of material from the asteriod's surface for return to Earth. The returned samples would help scientists better undertand and answer long-held questions about the formation of our solar system and the origin of complex molecules necessary for life. Michael Drake, of the University of Arizona in Tucson, is the principal investigator.

-- MoonRise: Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return Mission would place a lander in a broad basin near the moon's south pole and return approximately two pounds of lunar materials for study. This region of the lunar surface is believed to harbor rocks excavated from the moon's mantle. The samples would provide new insight into the early history of the Earth-moon system. Bradley Jolliff, of Washington University in St. Louis, is the principal investigator.

The proposals were submitted to NASA on July 31, 2009, in response to the New Frontiers Program 2009 Announcement of Opportunity. New Frontiers seeks to explore the solar system with frequent, medium-class spacecraft missions that will conduct high-quality, focused scientific investigations designed to enhance understanding of the solar system.

The final selection will become the third mission in the program. New Horizons, NASA's first New Frontiers mission, launched in 2006, will fly by the Pluto-Charon system in 2015 then target another Kuiper Belt object for study. The second mission, called Juno, is designed to orbit Jupiter from pole to pole for the first time, conducting an in-depth study of the giant planet's atmosphere and interior. It is slated for launch in August 2011.

For more information about the New Frontiers Program, visit:


IMAGE NOTE: The surface of Venus was scanned with radar waves beamed from orbiting space probes to produce this image. The colors are based on photos taken by probes that landed on Venus. Credit: NASA


Bruce said...

Why not explore the idea of inducing climate change on Venus to make it inhabitable. Something like sending bacteria that eat sulphuric acid and burp oxygen, combined with a sun shade orbiting between the Sun and Venus to lower the temperature.

Anonymous said...

Why? Why? Why drop another $650 million PLUS to verify we can hit a target? Let's get real!! Let's start putting our money where it will do some GOOD-rather than pad the pocket of a lot of people who don't need the cash or throw another few rockets into space just to say we did!

Bruce said...

Why not explore the idea of inducing climate change on Venus to make it inhabitable. Something like sending bacteria that eat sulphuric acid and burp oxygen, combined with a sun shade orbiting between the Sun and Venus to lower the temperature.

loutefre said...

This is just more of Bush-Chaney loonie tunes. Congrats to the winners but they need to get a day job and get off the public pay roll.

Anonymous said...

Venus mission is useless. We know 99% of what we need to know about Venus for the next 50 years. 50 years is how long we would pay for it with actual cost of mission over $5 billion counting interest and inflation.
Asteroid mission is better, but with no launch for 8 years? The Augustine stepwise mission profile would make a manned mission possible three years later. $650 million for a three year preview, this is low return on investment.
Mission for sample return from moon is best, but developing technology for automated mission for sample return is limited value given the Chinese and Indians will be there already. Spend the $650 million to speed manned missions. This is a non-negotiable 'equivalent of war' gotta do. More is being spent on unmanned missions than on manned missions.
Unmanned missions are interesting GOLLY GEE missions that produce NO VALUE. We need feet on the ground, an babies in space ASAP. It is about the species people, our right to exist! Spend the money for space - for living in space. Not just taking pretty pictures and collecting unrepresentative rocks.

Anonymous said...

"Bush-Chaney (sic) loonie tunes?" "Inducing climate change on Venus?"

You guys are giving me a headache.

Anonymous said...

I say we need to fund a program to come up with "warp drive". Once this is achieved then move on to the construction of a Star Ship named Enterprise.

stevepem said...

Personally I prefer the Venus mission because the Moon and asteroids will presumably be explored extensively in the coming decades, whereas we may never be able to land astronauts on Venus so the more robotics missions the better.

Bruce said...

On the climate change on Venus thing, I'm not a scientist or Nasa employee, it just sounds like a good thing to try. Maybe some scientific types could comment on the possibility of doing something like that. Venus is about the same size and distance from the Sun as Earth. Maybe with a little help, it could be more like Earth. Seems more interesting than knowing if Mars has petrified bacteria that died when the water went away.

Anonymous said...

This comment is pointless.