NASA selects missions for New Frontiers next phase

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NASA selects missions for New Frontiers next phase

CAESAR and Dragonfly will receive funding through the end of 2018 to develop the concepts, and by spring 2019, NASA will choose an investigation that will fly before the end of 2025, reported Space.com. Past and ongoing missions include New Horizons, which flew by Pluto a couple of years ago, Juno, now in orbit around Jupiter, and OSIRIS-REx which will take a sample from the asteroid Bennu and return it to Earth for study.

The European Space Agency landed the probe Philae on the comet in 2014, but the execution didn't go as planned, with the probe coming to rest on its side where it could not recharge with solar panels, Space.com reported.

The second mission, called Dragonfly, would send a drone-like rotocraft to the Saturn moon Titan, where it would explore theprebiotic chemistry and habitability of dozens of sites there, according to NASA. The exotic moon is very different from Earth, but its complex chemistry makes it a fascinating target to search for the development of life.

The first is called as Dragonfly, would be a unique mission to grant a flying robot to an alien moon. First is the Enceladus Life Finder, which would look for markers of biological activity in the geyser plumes shooting out of Saturn's moon, and second is the Venus In situ Composition Investigations, which would be the first NASA spacecraft to conduct the in-depth exploration of Venus in nearly 30 years. Its spacecraft would be built by APL in partnership with Penn State University, whose lab has already built models that have gone on test flights, Turtle said. The mission wouldn't be limited by power or a risky environment, Turtle said.

The mission would grab a sample from the nucleus of Churyumov-Gerasimenko, with the hope of learning about how those materials contributed to the early Earth, including the origins of our oceans and life.

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The winning mission, CAESAR or Dragonfly, will be the fourth in NASA's New Frontiers program of missions larger than Discovery-class spacecraft but less expensive than flagship-class missions.

"Comets are among the most scientifically important objects in the solar system, but they're also among the most poorly understood", said Cornell University researcher Steve Squyres, the lead investigator for the mission. "They contain the primitive building blocks of planets".

CAESAR's samples, the first ever taken of a comet nucleus, would include the volatile ices from its surface that are comets' signature feature.

Once there, it would touchdown, collect 100 g (3.5 oz) of regolith from its surface, separate the volatile compounds from the solids, then return the sample to Earth for analysis. That return capsule will be provided by the Japanese space agency JAXA, based on its experience with the Hayabusa asteroid sample return missions. Comets are made up of materials from ancient stars, interstellar clouds, and the birth of our Solar System.

"That dramatically improves the chances for success for a very hard activity, which is grabbing a piece of a comet", he added.

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"However, we can multiply the value of the mission if we add aerial mobility, which would enable us to access a variety of geologic settings, maximizing the science return and lowering mission risk by going over or around obstacles".

The CEASAR comet sample-return mission concept proposes returning a piece of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko to Earth 14 years after the mission's launch. "NASA intends to select one of these studies in the spring of 2019 to continue to subsequent mission phases", the United States space agency stated on Wednesday.

There were a total of 12 proposals that NASA released in May. For ELSAH, more work is needed to avoid contamination so the mission can better detect potential life on Saturn's icy moon. The decided mission will be the fourth in NASA's New Frontiers portfolio, a list of principal investigator-led planetary science examinations that fall under a development value cap of almost $850 million. "These are tremendously exciting missions".

The final choice between the two NASA projects will be in July 2019.

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