NASA announced Wednesday the next space exploration missions scheduled to launch sometime between 2020 and 2021. The space agency’s focus recently switched from distant moons and exoplanets to Venus and asteroids.
According to NASA, its epic Discovery Program, which was first launched in the 1990s in an attempt to provide humanity with cutting edge space exploration at the lowest possible costs, may soon feature up to two more missions.
The U.S. space agency said that there are currently five projects whose teams were awarded $3 million each to see whether their missions are feasible or not.
Researchers will use the money to conduct further studies and analyses until September 2015 when NASA will pick one or two winners. The missions that will win NASA’s final approval would cost $500 million more each plus some extras for launch and post-launch operations.
The five missions selected by NASA are VERITAS, DAVINCI, NEOCam, Lucy, and Psyche.
‘Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy,’ also known as VENUS, plans to launch an orbiter and get it very close to Venus’ surface. From there, it will beam back high-resolution closeups of the planet and help scientists produce accurate maps of the planet and its landscape. The mission would be managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
‘Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging’, in short DAVINCI, wants to send a probe to Venus to analyze the planet’s thick atmosphere. Scientists hope that the data gathered there may help them learn whether Venus’ volcanoes are still active. The mission is expected to be managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
NEOCam, which stands for Near Earth Object Camera, would deploy an infrared space telescope about 930,000 miles above Earth to study NEOs including dangerously close comets and asteroids. JPL is expected to manage the mission.
Lucy is designed to take a closer look at Trojan asteroids that follow Jupiter along its orbit around the sun. Scientists believe that these asteroids could help them better understand what happened in our solar system’s early days. The mission would be managed by Goddard.
Psyche mission is designed to gather more data on a mysterious metallic asteroid in the asteroid belt. The asteroid dubbed ‘Psyche’ is believed to be the core of an ancient dwarf planet that was hit by a huge object in the distant past. JPL would also manage this mission.
Other missions that failed to get NASA’s attention were a mission to find life on Saturn’s sixth largest moon Enceladus, two missions to explore Mars’ moons, and a mission to Jupiter’s fourth-largest moon Io.
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