Three mission concepts developed in cooperation with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to study the Sun, the atmosphere of Venus and the tail of an active comet have been selected to compete for launch in 1999 as part of NASA's Discovery program, designed to develop and launch small, low-cost planetary spacecraft with highly focused science goals.
The three Discovery missions, announced today by NASA Associate Administrator Dr. Wesley T. Huntress Jr., will be studied over the next six to nine months, leading to a fall 1995 decision to select one of them for development and launch.
The three missions are:
-- Stardust, which would fly through the extended coma, or tail, of the active comet P/Wild 2, taking images and returning a sample of its cometary dust to Earth for further analysis;
-- Suess-Urey, which would collect samples of solar particle matter streaming outward from the Sun and return it to Earth for laboratory study; and
-- The Venus Multiprobe Mission, which would drop 16 small probes into the thick Venusian atmosphere to enable study of its unusual atmospheric circulation.
"I am absolutely thrilled with the potential of these missions, and with the universally high quality of the 28 proposals submitted to us," said NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin. "The university and aerospace industry communities should be proud of their efforts, which represent a model of how to pursue scientifically first-rate space exploration using small, advanced spacecraft."
JPL will conduct studies of the three mission concepts over the summer with partners in industry, academia and the scientific community. The missions will be modeled after JPL's Mars Pathfinder mission, one of the first missions to be approved under NASA's Discovery program. Pathfinder will place a lander and small, semiautonomous rover on the surface of Mars in July 1997, testing new technologies that will be incorporated into future flights to Mars.
Plans call for Stardust to be launched on a Med-Lite launch vehicle -- roughly half the size of a Delta II launch vehicle -- in February 1999 for a total cost to NASA of $208 million. The Stardust team is led by Principal Investigator Dr. Donald Brownlee of the University of Washington in Seattle, with Martin Marietta Astronautics of Denver, Colo., as the contractor. Dr. Paul Swanson of JPL has been named project manager.
The Venus Multiprobe Mission would be launched on a Delta II launch vehicle in June 1999 for a total cost to NASA of $202 million. This Discovery mission will be led by Principal Investigator Dr. Richard Goody of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., with Hughes Space and Communications Group, El Segundo, Calif., as the industry contractor. Willis Meeks will become JPL project manager.
The Suess-Urey mission, named after two prominent scientists in the field of solar physics -- Drs. Hans E. Suess and Harold C. Urey -- would be launched on a NASA MedLite launch vehicle in August 1999 for a total mission cost to NASA of $214 million. The Suess-Urey team would be led by Principal Investigator Dr. Donald Burnett of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., with Martin Marietta as the contractor. This mission to study the Sun's solar wind would be managed by Dr. Firouz Naderi of JPL.
Twenty-eight formal proposals for the next Discovery missions were received by NASA in October 1994 in response to an August 1994 announcement of opportunity. NASA officials plan to release future announcements of opportunity under the Discovery program about every 18 months.
JPL carries out its portion of the work on the selected missions for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.
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