NASA's Discovery Program (as compared to New Frontiers, Explorer, or Flagship Programs) is a series of lower-cost, highly-focused American scientific space missions that are exploring the Solar System. It was founded in 1992 to implement then-NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin's vision of "faster, better, cheaper" planetary missions. Discovery missions differ from traditional NASA missions where targets and objectives are pre-specified. Instead, these cost-capped missions are proposed and led by a scientist called the Principal Investigator (PI). Proposing teams may include people from industry, small businesses, government laboratories, and universities. Proposals are selected through a competitive peer review process. All of the completed Discovery missions are accomplishing ground-breaking science and adding significantly to the body of knowledge about the Solar System.
NASA also accepts proposals for competitively selected Discovery Program Missions of Opportunity. This provides opportunities to participate in non-NASA missions by providing funding for a science instrument or hardware components of a science instrument or to re-purpose an existing NASA spacecraft. These opportunities are currently offered through NASA's Stand Alone Mission of Opportunity program.
- 1 Successfully completed missions
- 2 Failed mission
- 3 Missions in progress
- 4 Future missions
- 5 Proposals
- 6 Notable past proposals
- 7 Discovery "12"
- 8 Discovery "13"
- 9 Summary
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Successfully completed missions
- NEAR Shoemaker, a mission to study asteroid 433 Eros. Launched in 1995, the spacecraft entered into orbit around Eros in 2000 and successfully touched down on its surface one year later. It has succeeded its primary and extended mission and is now complete. The Project Scientist was Andrew Chang of The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
- Mars Pathfinder, a Mars lander to deploy a miniature rover on the surface. Launched in 1996, it landed on Mars on July 4, 1997. It has completed its primary and extended mission. The Principal Investigator was Matthew Golombek of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
- Lunar Prospector, a Moon orbiter to characterize the lunar mineralogy. Launched in 1998, it spent 1½ years in lunar orbit. It has completed its primary and extended mission and deliberately impacted onto the Moon's surface. The Principal Investigator was Alan Binder of the Lunar Research Institute.
- Deep Impact, a mission in which a spacecraft released an impactor into the path of comet Tempel 1. Launched in January 2005, the impact occurred on July 4, 2005. After the successful completion of its mission, it was put in hibernation and then reactivated for a new mission designated EPOXI. The Principal Investigator was Michael A'Hearn of the University of Maryland.
- Stardust, a mission to collect interstellar dust and dust particles from the nucleus of comet 81P/Wild for study on Earth. Launched in 1999, it successfully collected samples between 2000–2004, then the sample return capsule returned to Earth on Jan. 15, 2006. The capsule is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. Scientists worldwide are studying the comet dust samples while citizen scientists are finding interstellar dust bits through the Stardust@home project. The spacecraft has been assigned a new task, called Stardust-NExT. The Principal Investigator was Donald Brownlee of the University of Washington.
- Genesis, a mission to collect solar wind charged particles for analysis on Earth. Launched in 2001, it collected solar wind between 2002–2003. In Sept. 2004, the sample return capsule's parachute failed to deploy, and the capsule crashed into the Utah desert. However, solar wind samples were salvaged and are available for study. Despite the hard landing, Genesis has met or anticipates meeting all its baseline science objectives. The Principal Investigator was Donald Burnett of the California Institute of Technology.
- Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory, (GRAIL) provided higher-quality gravity field mapping of the Moon to determine its interior structure; launched in September 2011. The Principal Investigator is Maria Zuber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. GRAIL spacecraft impacted the Moon on December 17, 2012.
Missions of opportunity
- Moon Mineralogy Mapper is a NASA-designed instrument placed on board the ISRO's Chandrayaan orbiter. Launched in 2008, it was designed to explore the Moon's mineral composition at high resolution. M3’s detection of water on the Moon was announced in Sept. 2009, one month after the mission ended. The Principal Investigator was Dr. Carle Pieters of Brown University.
- Extrasolar Planet Observation and Deep Impact Extended Investigation (EPOXI) was selected in 2007. It was a series of two new missions for the existing Deep Impact probe following its success at Tempel 1:
- The Extrasolar Planet Observations and Characterization (EPOCh) mission used the Deep Impact high-resolution camera in 2008 to better characterize known giant extrasolar planets orbiting other stars and to search for additional planets in the same system. The Principal Investigator was Dr. L. Drake Deming of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
- The Deep Impact eXtended Investigation of Comets (DIXI) mission used the spacecraft for a flyby mission to a second comet, Hartley 2. The goal was to take pictures of its nucleus to increase our understanding of the diversity of comets. The flyby of Hartley 2 was successful with closest approach occurring on Nov. 4, 2010. Dr. Michael A'Hearn of the University of Maryland was the Principal Investigator.
- New Exploration of Tempel 1 (NExT) was a new mission for the Stardust spacecraft to fly by comet Tempel 1 in 2011 and observe changes since the Deep Impact mission visited it in July 2005. Later in 2005, Tempel 1 made its closest approach to the Sun, possibly changing the surface of the comet. The flyby was completed successfully on Feb. 15, 2011. Dr. Joseph Veverka of Cornell University is the Principal Investigator.
- Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR), a mission to visit and study comets Encke and Schwassmann-Wachmann-3. It was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on July 3, 2002. On August 15, contact with the craft was lost. Subsequent investigation revealed that it broke into at least three pieces, the cause likely being structural failure during the rocket motor burn that was to push it from Earth orbit into a solar orbit.
Missions in progress
- Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging (MESSENGER), a mission to study and map the planet Mercury from orbit; launched in August 2004, has completed a series of flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury, and following a successful orbital insertion maneuver in March 2011 has begun its yearlong primary mission. The Principal Investigator is Sean Solomon of the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
- Dawn, a mission to study the dwarf planet Ceres and large asteroid Vesta; launched in September 2007. It reached Vesta in July 2011. Dawn uses ion propulsion, allowing both Ceres and Vesta to be orbited in one mission. The Principal Investigator is Chris Russell of the University of California, Los Angeles. It is currently en route to 1 Ceres
- Kepler, a space telescope mission that continuously observed 100,000 stars in a fixed field of view in order to detect transits by exoplanets orbiting those stars. It was launched in March 2009 and announced its first exoplanet discoveries in January 2010. Kepler is the first spacecraft capable of finding Earth-size planets around other stars. The Principal Investigator is William Borucki of NASA’s Ames Research Center. It is currently experiencing technical difficulties, but may have a follow on mission.
Missions of opportunity
- ASPERA-3, an instrument designed to study the interaction between the solar wind and the atmosphere of Mars, is flying on board the European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter. Launched in June 2003, it has been orbiting Mars since Dec. 2003. The Principal Investigator is David Winningham of Southwest Research Institute.
- InSight – An Announcement of Opportunity for the 2016 Discovery mission was released by NASA on June 7, 2010. Twenty-eight proposals were submitted, and on May 5, 2011, three were chosen for further study. Following these one-year preliminary design studies, the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission was selected in August 2012. InSight (initially named Geophysical Monitoring Station or GEMS) will study the structure and composition of the interior of Mars and advance understanding of the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets.
Missions of opportunity
- Strofio is a unique mass spectrometer that is part of the SERENA instrument package that will fly on board the European Space Agency’s BepiColombo/Mercury Planetary Orbiter spacecraft. Strofio will study the atoms and molecules that compose Mercury's atmosphere to reveal the composition of the planet's surface. Stefano Livi of Southwest Research Institute is the Principal Investigator.
- Lander Radio-Science on ExoMars, or LaRa, will use NASA's Deep Space Network of radio telescopes to track part of ESA's ExoMars mission. Scheduled to launch in 2016, the mission consists of a fixed lander and a rover that will roam Mars collecting soil samples for detailed analysis. William Folkner of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory is the Principal Investigator.
- Icebreaker Life is a Mars lander mission that is being proposed for the 2018 launch opportunity. The stationary lander would be a near copy of the successful 2008 Phoenix and it would carry an upgraded scientific payload focused on astrobiology. It would include a drill to sample ice-cemented ground in the northern plains to conduct a search for organic molecules and evidence of current or past life on Mars.
Notable past proposals
However often the funding comes in, there is a selection process with perhaps 2 dozen concepts. These sometimes get tweaked and re-proposed in another selection. An example of this is Suess-Urey Mission, which was passed over in favor of the successful Stardust mission, but was eventually flown as Genesis.
- Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) spacecraft for landing in, and floating on, a large methane-ethane sea on Saturn's moon Titan.
- Comet Hopper (CHopper) study cometary evolution by landing on a comet multiple times and observing its changes as it interacts with the Sun.
Other previous finalists include: Dawn, INSIDE, Kepler, Alladin, Deep Impact, Osiris, and Vesper. Many of these concepts went on to become actual missions, or similar concepts were eventually realized in the Discovery or others.
Additional examples of Discovery-class missions:
- Io Volcano Observer
- EXOMOON, in situ investigation on Earth's Moon.
- PSOLHO, would use the Moon as an occulter to look for exoplanets.
- Suess-Urey, similar to the later Genesis mission
- Venus Multiprobe, would send 16 atmospheric probes into Venus
- Mars Upper Atmosphere Dynamics, Energetics, and Evolution
- Hermes, planet Mercury orbiter.
- Lunette, lunar lander.
An Announcement of Opportunity for a Discovery mission was released by NASA on June 7, 2010. Out of 28 proposals from 2010, three finalists received US$3 million in May 2011 to develop a detailed concept studies. In August 2012, InSight was selected for development and launch. According to the BBC, of the 28 mission proposals, 3 were for the Moon, 4 for Mars, 7 for Venus, 1 Jupiter, 1 to a Jupiter Trojan, 2 to Saturn, 7 to asteroids, and 3 to Comets.
The next Discovery mission after InSight has not been selected yet. As with previous Discovery missions such as Dawn, Solar electric propulsion may allow increased mission options if applicable. Technologies may include the NEXT ion thruster, laser communication, and/or re-entry technology. The main mission is budgeted for up to 450 million USD, with various conditions but also bonuses. There is a looming funding pinch for ongoing missions between the already tight budgets of Hubble, Cassini, and other continuing missions, yet the Curiosity rover will need additional funding. Some of the priorities from the last Planetary Science Decadal survey were Mars, Jupiter's moons, and Uranus.
Discovery missions are permitted to have international co-operation. One option may be to partner with Germany on its currently halted Lunar Lander; Germany was willing to contribute 45% of the mission's total cost. The total cost (including a 6 month-long mission at the lunar south pole) was estimated at 500 million euros (about US$640 million). Spain also wanted to contribute to the total, but could not make up the shortfall.
The BepiColombo Mercury lander had to be cut do to funding, and NASA has also studied independent designs for Mercury landings. France had developed a concept in 1990 to send a science balloon to Mars. Development reached the point where both Mars Observer and Mars Global Surveyor included the French Mars Balloon Relay (later just Mars Relay). Mars balloons have also been studied by NASA, and are noted for their potential to provide a soft-landing and to collect data much closer to the surface than orbiters. At the other extreme is the MAGIC concept, which proposed a 1.2 meter diameter telescope to provide lander-like views of the surface from orbit. Tito's proposed human flyby of Mars needs about $700 million of public money and NASA expertise.
The following is a partial list of most of the current candidates:
- A Discovery-class mission to 16 Psyche, a metal asteroid and possible planetary core, may be one candidate.
- A "dust telescope" is another concept; a kind of space observatory that measures various properties of incoming cosmic dust. A dust telescope combines a trajectory sensor and a mass spectrometer, to allow the elemental and even isotopic composition to be analyzed. Examples of such mission have the potential to offer insights not only into Solar system bodies such as asteroids, comets, and material ejected from planetary bodies, but even measure interstellar dust.
- Other possibilities may include Phobos and Deimos sample return, a Phobos Surveyor, or mission to Phobos based on LCROSS. A mission called "Merlin" proposes a lander for the Deimos.
- Mars Moons Multiple landings Mission ("M4"), a discovery-class mission to conduct multiple landings on Phobos and Deimos.
- Multiple geophysical landers were considered during InSight development, because seismological data from two locations has special advantages. Another site detecting P and S waves can restrict the location of a single-point seismological event (such as a "Mars quake") to the intersection of two spheres. Examples of twin missions to the red planet include Viking 1 and 2, Mars Exploration Rovers, and Mariner 6 and 7 among others.
- "Hera" is a discovery-class mission design for near-Earth asteroid sample return. Envisioned as the follow-on from the NEAR mission, the design was intended to collect three samples from three different asteroids.
- Icebreaker Life, similar to Phoenix/InSight platform but looking for past extraterrestrial life on Mars.
- VEVA (Venus Exploration of Volcanoes and Atmosphere); an in atmosphere probe for Venus. The centerpiece was a 7-day balloon flight through the atmosphere accompanied by various sondes, little probes dropped deeper into the planet's thick gases.
- Venus Pathfinder, a long-duration Venus lander.
- RAVEN, a discovery-class Venus radar mapping mission.
- Various Discovery-class missions for Mars were considered in the last planetary science decadal review. One concept was for a lander with a sub-surface drill and also measuring various properties of the surface and atmosphere.
- VALOR, Discovery-class Venus balloon mission. Twin balloons would circumnaviagate the planet over 8 Earth-days.
- Mars Geyser Hopper
- Mars Geoscience Imaging at Centimeter-scale
- Discovery-class Venus aircraft.
- Red Dragon, Mars lander
- Small Body Grand Tour
- Comet Coma Rendezvous Sample Return.
- Twin discovery-class lunar geophysical landers.
- Micro Exo Explorer
- Discovery-class lunar sample return.
- Discovery-class Venus atmospheric probe.
- Venus sample return
|Deep Impact||Stardust||Genesis||Grail||Kepler Observatory||Dawn||Messenger|
|Lunar Prospector||Mars Pathfinder||NEAR||InSight|
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