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Jason DavisFebruary 14, 2020

The Downlink: NASA Considers Missions to Venus, Io, and Triton

Possible Destinations for NASA's Next Discovery Mission

NASA / JPL / Mattias Malmer (Venus), NASA / JPL / Jason Perry (Io), NASA / JPL / Ted Stryk (Triton)

Possible Destinations for NASA's Next Discovery Mission
Following a downselect in February 2020, the possible solar system targets for NASA's next low-cost Discovery-class mission program are Venus, Io, and Triton. They are not displayed to scale in this image.

Welcome to The Downlink, a planetary exploration news roundup from The Planetary Society!  Here's everything that crossed our radar this week.

Solar System NASA announced the selection of 4 mission concepts that are under consideration to fly as part of the agency’s low-cost Discovery program. Of the selected concepts, 2 are vying for Venus, 1 is aiming for Io, and 1 is targeting Triton. The team behind each mission will receive funding for 9-month concept studies, after which NASA will pick up to 2 missions for further development. 

Exoplanet The European Space Agency’s CHaracterising ExOPlanet Satellite, CHEOPS, successfully took its first test image of a star. The image shows a star located 150 light-years away and is intentionally blurry to spread the starlight out over more of CHEOPS’s camera. The goal of the mission is to precisely measure the diameters of known exoplanets. CHEOPS launched in December, and science operations are scheduled to begin in April. Learn more about CHEOPS here.

Sun Solar Orbiter, a joint European Space Agency and NASA mission, successfully launched on a mission to study the Sun’s poles. During Solar Orbiter’s 5-year primary mission, scientists will study how radiation and charged particles blasted from the Sun are carried by the solar wind towards Earth. 

Mars The European Space Agency’s Rosalind Franklin rover has shipped to France, where it will be joined to the descent module that will carry it through Mars’ atmosphere. The module will slow down via parachute before dropping the rover above the surface, allowing it to complete the final descent on thrusters. The mission is still awaiting final parachute tests before being cleared to launch. Learn more about the 4 missions launching to Mars this year.

Earth A Northrop Grumman Cygnus cargo spacecraft, originally set to launch to the International Space Station on 9 February, is now scheduled to liftoff today. Launch controllers scrubbed the first attempt after abnormal readings from a ground support sensor. Cygnus is carrying 3.6 metric tons of research, crew supplies, and hardware. Learn more about the International Space Station here.

Earth NASA plans to hire a new class of astronauts that could be assigned missions to the International Space Station, Moon, and Mars. The job requirements include U.S. citizenship, a master’s degree in a STEM field with related professional experience, and the ability to pass an astronaut physical. If you think you’ve got what it takes to join the astronaut corps, you can apply online between 2 and 31 March, 2020. 

Moon NASA’s Orion spacecraft, which will be used to carry astronauts to the Moon and beyond, completed environmental testing at the agency’s Plum Brook Facility in Ohio. The spacecraft was placed in a vacuum chamber for 6 weeks and repeatedly frozen and thawed, simulating conditions it will encounter in space. Learn more about NASA’s Artemis program here.

Arrokoth The scientists behind NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and beyond released new results from the spacecraft’s flyby of the Kuiper Belt object Arrokoth last year. The findings, published in the journal Science, further support the notion that Arrokoth’s two round lobes formed in the same region of space and came together in a slow-speed collision. Learn more about the New Horizons mission here.

A brand-new Downlink is coming. In addition to our weekly news roundup, each Downlink will soon contain bonus space images and factoids, announcements from The Planetary Society, and actions you can take to support space science and exploration. You will also be able to receive The Downlink in your inbox—subscribe to our email list today!

Read more: New Horizons, 486958 Arrokoth (2014 MU69), the Sun, extrasolar planets, The Downlink, CHEOPS, USA human spaceflight, solar observing spacecraft, Cygnus, Orion, ExoMars 2020, Earth, the Moon, Mars

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Jason Davis

Editorial Director for The Planetary Society
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