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Bruce BettsDecember 30, 2009

NASA selects three new missions for New Frontiers studies

NASA has selected three finalists for the next New Frontiers mission: a Venus lander, a near Earth asteroid sample return, and a lunar Aitken basin sample return mission. Each will receive $3.3 million to do one-year concept studies for their missions, and one mission will be chosen in 2012 for flight. New Frontiers is for competed "medium"-sized missions, with a price tag under $650 million. Current New Frontiers missions are the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the upcoming Juno Jupiter orbiter. Random Space Fact: New Horizons just passed the halfway distance mark on its way to Pluto.

The selected proposals, in alphabetical order:

MoonRise Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return Mission (Principal Investigator Bradley Jolliff, Washington U. in St. Louis) would land in the broad Aitken Basin near the moon's South Pole and return approximately two pounds of lunar materials for study. This region of the lunar surface is believed to harbor rocks excavated from the moon's mantle.

Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer spacecraft (Osiris-Rex) (Principal Investigator Michael Drake, University of Arizona) would rendezvous and orbit a primitive near Earth asteroid. After extensive measurements, instruments would collect more than two ounces of material from the asteroid's surface for return to Earth.

Surface and Atmosphere Geochemical Explorer (SAGE) (Principal Investigator Larry Esposito, U. Colorado) would have a probe that would descend through Venus' atmosphere collecting lots of data on the way down. Then, it would land and measure composition and mineralogy of surface rock, both weathered (as found by the lander) and after abrading away the upper surface.

These missions are exciting, but you'll have to be patient: launch can be anytime before the end of 2018.

Read more: Future Mission Concepts, OSIRIS-REx

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Bruce Betts

Director of Science and Technology / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society
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