Trident Mission Led by LPI Among Finalists for NASA's Discovery Program
February 14, 2020
Universities Space Research Association (USRA) is pleased to announce that NASA's Discovery Program, which sponsors investigations to develop concept studies for new missions, has selected four science investigations, as a step in choosing one or two missions for flight opportunities in the 2020's. Among these is the Trident mission concept whose Principal Investigator is USRA's Louise Prockter, Director of the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI). A co-investigator is USRA's Staff Scientist at the LPI, Paul Schenk. In addition, USRA scientists at the LPI, Walter Kiefer and Justin Filiberto, are co-investigators on DAVINCI+ mission concept, which was also selected by NASA.
Although they're not official missions yet, and some may ultimately not move forward, these selections focus on compelling targets and science that are not covered by NASA's active missions or recent selections. Final selections will be made next year.
The goal of NASA's Discovery Program is to address pressing questions in planetary science and increase our understanding of our solar system.
“These selected missions have the potential to transform our understanding of some of the solar system's most active and complex worlds,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. “Exploring any one of these celestial bodies will help unlock the secrets of how it, and others like it, came to be in the cosmos.”
Each of the four nine-month studies will receive $3 million to develop and mature concepts and will conclude with a Concept Study Report. After evaluating the concept studies, NASA will continue development of up to two missions towards flight. The proposals were chosen based on their potential science value and feasibility of development plans following a competitive peer-review process.
Prockter's proposal on Trident would explore Triton, a unique and highly active icy moon of Neptune, to understand pathways to habitable worlds at tremendous distances from the Sun. NASA's Voyager 2 mission showed that Triton has active resurfacing—generating the second youngest surface in the solar system—with erupting plumes and an atmosphere. Coupled with an ionosphere that can create organic snow and the potential for an interior ocean, Triton is an exciting exploration target for understanding how habitable worlds may develop in our solar system and others. Using a single fly-by, Trident would map Triton, characterize active processes, and determine whether the predicted subsurface ocean exists. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, would provide project management.
Dr. Louise M. Prockter
Dr. Paul M. Schenk
Senior Staff Scientist
Dr. Justin Filiberto
Senior Staff Scientist
Dr. Walter S. Kiefer
Senior Staff Scientist
DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus) will analyze Venus' atmosphere to understand how it formed, evolved and determine whether Venus ever had an ocean. DAVINCI+ plunges through Venus' inhospitable atmosphere to precisely measure its composition down to the surface. The instruments are encapsulated within a purpose-built descent sphere to protect them from the intense environment of Venus. The “+” in DAVINCI+ refers to the imaging component of the mission, which includes cameras on the descent sphere and orbiter designed to map surface rock-type. The last U.S.-led, in-situ mission to Venus was in 1978. The results from DAVINCI+ have the potential to reshape our understanding of terrestrial planet formation in our solar system and beyond. James Garvin of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is the Principal Investigator, and Goddard would provide project management.
The Io Volcanic Observer (IVO) would explore Jupiter's moon, Io, to learn how tidal forces shape planetary bodies. Io is heated by the constant crush of Jupiter's gravity and is the most volcanically active body in the solar system. The mission's results could revolutionize our understanding of the formation and evolution of rocky, terrestrial bodies, as well as icy ocean worlds in our solar system, and extrasolar planets across the universe. Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona in Tucson is the Principal Investigator, and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland would provide project management.
VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy) would map Venus' surface to determine the planet's geologic history and understand why Venus developed so differently than the Earth. Orbiting Venus with a synthetic aperture radar, VERITAS charts surface elevations over nearly the entire planet to create three-dimensional reconstructions of topography and confirm whether processes, such as plate tectonics and volcanism, are still active on Venus. VERITAS would also map infrared emissions from the surface to map Venus' geology, which is largely unknown. Suzanne Smrekar of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, is the Principal Investigator and JPL would provide project management.
The selected investigations will be managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, as part of the Discovery Program. The Discovery Program conducts space science investigations in the Planetary Science Division of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, guided by NASA's agency priorities and the Decadal Survey process of the National Academy of Sciences.
Established in 1992, NASA's Discovery Program has supported the development and implementation of over 20 missions and instruments. These selections are part of the ninth Discovery Program competition.
For more information about NASA's Discovery Program, visit: NASA's Discovery Program