NASA Selects Investigations For Future Key Planetary Mission

WASHINGTON -- NASA has selected three science investigations from
which it will pick one potential 2016 mission to look at Mars'
interior for the first time; study an extraterrestrial sea on one of
Saturn's moons; or study in unprecedented detail the surface of a comet's nucleus.

Each investigation team will receive $3 million to conduct its
mission's concept phase or preliminary design studies and analyses.
After another detailed review in 2012 of the concept studies, NASA
will select one to continue development efforts leading up to launch.
The selected mission will be cost-capped at $425 million, not
including launch vehicle funding.

NASA's Discovery Program requested proposals for spaceflight
investigations in June 2010. A panel of NASA and other scientists and
engineers reviewed 28 submissions. The selected investigations could
reveal much about the formation of our solar system and its dynamic
processes. Three technology developments for possible future
planetary missions also were selected.

"NASA continues to do extraordinary science that is re-writing
textbooks," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "Missions like
these hold great promise to vastly increase our knowledge, extend our
reach into the solar system and inspire future generations of

The planetary missions selected to pursue preliminary design studies

-- Geophysical Monitoring Station (GEMS) would study the structure and
composition of the interior of Mars and advance understanding of the
formation and evolution of terrestrial planets. Bruce Banerdt of
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., is
principal investigator. JPL would manage the project.
-- Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) would provide the first direct
exploration of an ocean environment beyond Earth by landing in, and
floating on, a large methane-ethane sea on Saturn's moon Titan. Ellen
Stofan of Proxemy Research Inc. in Gaithersburg, Md., is principal
investigator. Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory
in Laurel, Md., would manage the project.
-- Comet Hopper would study cometary evolution by landing on a comet
multiple times and observing its changes as it interacts with the
sun. Jessica Sunshine of the University of Maryland in College Park
is principal investigator. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in
Greenbelt, Md., would manage the project.
"This is high science return at a price that's right," said Jim Green,
director of NASA's Planetary Science Division in Washington. "The
selected studies clearly demonstrate a new era with missions that all
touch their targets to perform unique and exciting science."
The three selected technology development proposals will expand the
ability to catalog near-Earth objects, or NEOs; enhance the
capability to determine the composition of comet ices; and validate a
new method to reveal the population of objects in the poorly
understood, far-distant part of our solar system. During the next
several years, selected teams will receive funding that is determined
through contract negotiations to bring their respective technologies
to a higher level of readiness. To be considered for flight, teams
must demonstrate progress in a future mission proposal competition.
The proposals selected for technology development are:
-- Primitive Material Explorer (PriME) would develop a mass
spectrometer that would provide highly precise measurements of the
chemical composition of a comet and explore the objects' role in
delivering volatiles to Earth. Anita Cochran of the University of
Texas in Austin is principal investigator.
-- Whipple: Reaching into the Outer Solar System would develop and
validate a technique called blind occultation that could lead to the
discovery of various celestial objects in the outer solar system and
revolutionize our understanding of the area's structure. Charles
Alcock of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge,
Mass., is principal investigator.
-- NEOCam would develop a telescope to study the origin and evolution
of NEOs and study the present risk of Earth-impact. It would generate
a catalog of objects and accurate infrared measurements to provide a
better understanding of small bodies that cross our planet's orbit.
Amy Mainzer of JPL is principal investigator.

Created in 1992, the Discovery Program sponsors frequent, cost-capped
solar system exploration missions with highly focused scientific
goals. The program's 11 missions include MESSENGER, Dawn, Stardust,
Deep Impact and Genesis. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in
Huntsville, Ala., manages the program for the agency's Science Mission Directorate.

For more information about the Discovery Program, visit:



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