Sunday, April 11, 2010

Discovery Program Update

A community announcement regarding the selection of the next Discovery program mission has been posted by NASA.  This next selection can target missions to any planet, moon, or small body, including Mars.  The total mission cost is capped at $425M, not including the launch vehicle and any of several government supplied technologies, including an ASRG plutonium power supply.  By providing the launch vehicle and other technologies, NASA has substantially increased the scope of missions that can be flown within this program and the range of destinations.  Click here, on the Discovery Missions link, to read about several mission concepts that have been publicly discussed.  [As a side note, the launch date limitation in 2017 might allow the proposed ARGO Neptune/Triton/Kuiper belt flyby mission to be funded within this proposal.  While the schedules apparently overlap, I don't know if the ARGO mission could be flown within a Discovery budget.  The ARGO spacecraft would be similar in scope to the proposed Discovery Io Volcano Observer, and ARGO would require a plutonium power supply.  I expect that the ARGO will see if there is a fit.]

"NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) intends to release an Announcement of Opportunity (AO) for Discovery Program missions no earlier than (NET) June 2010. The Discovery Program conducts Principal Investigator (PI)-led space science investigations in SMD’s planetary programs under a not-to-exceed cost cap. It is anticipated that approximately two to three Discovery investigations will be selected for 9-month Phase A concept studies through this AO. At the conclusion of these concept studies, it is planned that one Discovery investigation will be selected to continue into Phase B and subsequent mission phases."

The announcement goes on to list several technical and budgetary changes to the planned Announcement of Opportunity (AO) before listing the expected schedule for mission selection and flight:

Release of final AO (target)     NET June 2010
Pre-proposal conference     ~3 weeks after final AO release
Proposals due     90 days after AO release
Selection for competitive Phase A studies     March 2011 (target)
Concept study reports due     February 2012 (target)
Down-selection     July 2012 (target)
Launch readiness date     NLT December 31, 2017

You can read the entire announcement at


  1. Argo as a Discovery proposal would be great! I imagine it might have to be de-scoped, but I think its chances of becoming areal mission are much better if it can compete twice (Discovery and NH-4)

  2. some thoughts on the proposed ARGO/discovery AO.The LCROSS mission and the LRO missions lessons have gone " viral" with the idea that we can use the same launch vehicle to manifest science missions.
    They can be missions by the same PI, or perhaps some of you who might be PI,s who might be competitors who are in reality might be partners?
    ULA is trying to sell joint manifesting to reduce costs, why would NASA and there science customers and yes! the decadal surveys not plan for this?

  3. There have been a number of studies of co-launched planetary missions (for example, the ultimately doomed Discovery COMA mission). Planetary missions generally want the full throw weight of the launcher to (1) get as much weight and/or (2) to get as possible to the destination as quickly as possible. In the case of the ARGO mission, they are likely to want to get as much speed as possible. One of the factors that drove New Horizons to a New Frontiers mission was the need for a big, expensive launcher to reach the outer solar system as quickly as possible. ARGO likely would face the same need.

    However, for small inner planet missions or even some small body missions, a shared launch is certainly doable.