The NASA Discovery Program is sorting through suggestions for the agency's next spaceflight investigation. Today, NASA released a shortlist of just five missions — one or two of which should launch by 2021.
Every few years, NASA puts up a pot of money to fund low-cost planetary exploration, and the scientific community sends in their back-of-the-napkin suggestions. This time around, 28 proposals were submitted, a list that's been whittled down to five. Three of those are targeted at asteroids, while the remaining two would go to visit poor neglected Venus.
The three asteroid missions have broadly different objectives: Psyche wants to meet up with a 213-kilometer asteroid, named Psyche, which astronomers think is a metallic body; NEOCam would use infrared instruments to find undiscovered asteroids near to Earth; and Lucy would use similar instruments to the New Horizon to go examine Trojan asteroids orbiting around Jupiter.
As for the Venus missions, VERITAS wants to use radar to map the planet's surface, while DAVINCI would descend onto Venus's surface, studying the atmosphere as it went.
Each of the shortlisted teams gets $US3 million to conduct further studies over the next year, and NASA is hoping to announce a finalist by September 2016.