What’s Nasa’s Next Planetary Mission? Meet the Contenders

Read on ecnmag.com.

Which would make for a better planetary mission, exploring Venus or exploring an asteroid?

Well, the chances for visiting either are likely. NASA announced the first-round selections for its next Discovery mission—three targeted at asteroids, two at Venus—that will move to the next stage of the competition.

Discovery is NASA’s low-cost planetary mission program managed by the administration’s Planetary Science Division. Every few years, scientists propose missions to anywhere in the solar system that can fit within the cost cap (usually capped at around $500 million). InSight, the current Discovery mission, is set to launch in March of 2016.

28 proposals were submitted for destinations around the solar system, and of the five selected, only one will actually fly.

NASA will give each of the proposed missions $3 million to develop their ideas further, and by September 2016, the agency will select one (or maybe two if we’re lucky) to fly as early as 2020.

So, if you had a say, which mission would have your vote?

Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging (DAVINCI)
DAVINCI proposes sending a craft on a 63-minute venture through Venus’s atmosphere, collecting data about the planet’s atmosphere, volcanic activity, and surface pressures.

The Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy mission (VERITAS)
VERITAS, on the other hand, is an orbitor mission, and would bring back global, high-resolution topography and imaging of Venus’ surface, all done from the safety of space. The mission would also produce the first maps of deformation and global surface composition. Venus needs some love (it hasn’t been explored in 2 decades), so either mission is long overdue.

Psyche
Psyche, a metallic asteroid, has never been visited by a spacecraft, so this would make for an exciting trip. It’s one of the biggest objects in the asteroid belt (with a diameter of 253 kilometers), and was likely once a protoplanet before some space rock slammed into it.

Lucy
The Jupiter Trojan asteroids, for some reason called “Lucy,” hold clues to the history of the solar system. The mission would take a closer look at the band of space debris that shares Jupiter’s orbit around the sun. So far 6,000 of them have been discovered, but they remain unexplored.

Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam)
A NEOCam mission would document the dangerous objects whizzing around Earth, and characterize them to see which pose the most immediate threats. According to NASA, NEOCam would be able to discover ten times as many NEOs than all objects found to date.

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