NASA selects finalists for next Discovery mission
(CNN) -- NASA has narrowed the choices for an upcoming Discovery space exploration mission to three proposals: a space telescope that would search for terrestrial planets, a probe that could look inside the gas-shrouded depths of Jupiter and a spacecraft that would orbit two giant asteroids.
The space agency, which announced the finalists on Friday, will
admittedly have a hard time selecting only one of the missions, which
each have a price tag slightly under $300 million.
"The diversity of science represented in these three missions proposals
is outstanding. NASA will have its hands full picking only one for
flight," said Jay Bergstralh, the acting director of solar system
exploration for NASA, in a statement.
The three mission concepts are:
- Kepler Mission: A space telescope to search for planets the size of
Earth around nearby stars. The Kepler observatory could detect up to
500 terrestrial-sized planets by monitoring 100,000 stars over five
years, according to NASA researchers.
- INSIDE Jupiter: The Interior Structure and Internal Dynamic Evolution
(INSIDE) probe would orbit Jupiter and measure processes within the
jovian atmosphere. The spacecraft would also make high-resolution maps
of the gas giant's magnetic and gravity fields.
- Dawn Mission: This robot ship would orbit Vesta and Ceres, two of the
largest asteroids in the solar system. Scientists speculate the two
space rocks have extremely different properties because they formed in
different parts of the solar system. A coordinated study could shed
light on how our planetary neighborhood evolved.
Chosen from 26 proposals submitted last August, the trio of projects
will each receive $450,000 for feasibility studies, according to NASA.
The final winner will be selected in less than a year and should launch
NASA solicited the proposals through its Discovery program, a series of lower-cost, rapid development scientific missions meant to study objects in our solar system and search other star systems for planets.
The first Discovery mission, the NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous)
spacecraft, launched in 1996 and has orbited the asteroid Eros for
almost one year.
Other Discovery projects include the Mars Pathfinder probe, which
landed on the red planet; the Stardust and Contour spacecraft,
currently in deep space to study comets and interstellar debris; and
the Genesis robot ship, which will approach the sun for an extended
scientific "sunbathing" trip.
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NASA Discovery Program
Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous Mission
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