Review teams at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory began this week to winnow proposals from industry, universities and other organizations seeking to take part in the New Millennium Program, an ambitious new effort by NASA to design, develop and send a fleet of miniaturized spacecraft throughout the solar system in the next century.
The process to select members for the program's Integrated Product Development Teams, which will design the spacecraft and instruments and propose the missions, will end in early June.
The New Millennium Program will launch small spacecraft with imaginative new microminiaturized science instruments as often as once a month to explore the planets, asteroids and comets of the solar system by early in the next century.
Mission concepts being considered under the program include a Mars network of spacecraft, orbiters to explore the outer planets, landers or satellites, solar probes or orbiters, Earth-observing network missions, spacecraft that will visit the edges of the outer solar system and sensitive astronomical instruments to detect and image planets of other solar systems.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory solicited proposals in early April from industry, academia and nonprofit organizations for membership on the Integrated Product Development Teams. That solicitation included four of the five primary areas of research and development: autonomy, microelectronics, telecommunications and advanced structures and materials.
Solicitation for the remaining area of spacecraft development -- micro-electromechanical systems -- has been postponed for a short time.
Members of the teams will be selected based on how their technology concepts fit into New Millennium objectives and how mature or well developed the proposed technologies are currently. The members, once chosen, will join government members selected by NASA to develop new, affordable solutions to the needs of 21st century NASA missions.
The solicitation was mailed to 300 organizations and announced in Commerce Business Daily to ensure wide dissemination. A total of 232 responses was received by the May 2 deadline.
The review teams which will choose the winning proposals include two NASA co-leaders of the Integrated Product Development Teams, other government members and additional technical experts.
The review teams picked up their copies of the proposals during the week and will gather again in late May to choose the first set of team members and their proposals. The teams will pick three demonstration missions by the end of summer. The first would fly in late 1997 or early 1998 and the remaining two would folow at one-year intervals.
The New Millennium Program is the core of the "better, faster, cheaper," philosophy of the Clinton Administration and NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin, who called the program "a revolution" in space exploration.
"They're like nothing that's ever been done before," he said. He described the spacecraft as "small, built on a bench, not in a high bay area, and about a tenth of the cost and a tenth of the weight of today's spacecraft."
An important element of the program is the creation of partnerships with industry, rather than the traditional style of subcontracting technology development out to private industry. The program also will emphasize involvement with small and disadvantaged businesses.
Kane Casani is manager of the New Millennium Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Dr. Barbara Wilson is deputy manager at JPL and Dr. Ellen Stofan, also of JPL, is the New Millennium program scientist.
The New Millennium program is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.
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