The leaked Survey summary reported on by Space News turned out to accurately reflect the priorities and challenge for NASA's planetary program. Context on NASA's view of its situation can be found at http://futureplanets.blogspot.com/2011/03/context-for-decadal-survey-report.html.
I will have more later in the week as I have time to think through the report (423 pages!) and listen to other reactions. Here, I'll give the very brief summary of priorities for flight missions given by the Survey:
Overall priorities (I believe these reflect the priorities expressed in Squyres' presentation; they are not listed in priority report in the small part of the report I've been able to examine):
- Discovery program funded at the current level adjusted for inflation;
- Mars Trace Gas Orbiter conducted jointly with ESA;
- New Frontiers Missions 4 and 5; (NF mission 3 is currently in selection)
- Flagship mission chosen from list below
Based on the the previous, much more generous FY11 budget projections, the committee recommended flying two Flagship missions, either MAX-C or JEO and a Uranus orbiter and probe mission. During the presentation, Dr. Squyres said that in a reduced budget environment, one Flagship mission would be selected in the following priority order; higher priority missions would be passed over if conditions noted not met:
- Mars Astrobiology Explorer-Cacher (MAX-C), at $2.5B cost (vs. $3.5B estimate) and prepares for sample return and continues partnership with ESA
- Jupiter Europa Orbiter (JEO), at significantly lower cost than $4.7B estimate
- Uranus Orbiter and Probe, $2.7 billion
- Venus Climate Mission, $2.4 billion
- Enceladus Orbiter, $1.9 billion
The Survey recommends that the New Frontiers 4 mission be selected from the following missions:
- Comet Surface Sample Return,
- Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return*,
- Saturn Probe,
- Trojan Tour and Rendezvous, and
- Venus In Situ Explorer*
*may previously be selected for New Frontiers 3
For the New Frontiers 5 mission, these two missions would be added to the list:
- Io Observer,
- Lunar Geophysical Network.
Editorial Note: Based on my quick look, I am amazed by the depth of the report and the amount of obvious thought that has been put into it. While I personally would have favored changes here and there, this is a set of recommendations that I can and do support. Given the much higher cost estimates for the MAX-C and Jupiter Europa Orbiter missions and the recent much lower projected budgets, I suspect that some aspects of this report may be revisted. The Survey explicitly calls for attempting to descope MAX-C and JEO.