NASA Discovery Program Announcement of Opportunity Long-range Planning Information

Release Date:  December 12, 2017

Identification Number: NNH18ZDA004L

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Science Mission Directorate (SMD) intends to release an Announcement of Opportunity (AO) for Discovery Program missions by February 2019. 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 no more than three Discovery investigations will be selected for 9-month, $3M (RY) Phase A concept studies through this AO. At the conclusion of these concept studies, it is planned that at least one Discovery investigation will be selected to continue into Phase B and subsequent mission phases. Multiple missions may be selected if their total cost remains below the cost cap.  There will be no Missions of Opportunity (MO) solicited as part of this AO nor through an accompanying Program Element Appendix to the SALMON-3 AO.

NASA recognizes and supports the benefits of having diverse and inclusive scientific, engineering, and technology communities and fully expects that such values will be reflected in the composition of all proposal teams as well as peer review panels (science, engineering, and technology), science definition teams, and mission and instrument teams.

Discovery Program investigations must address NASA’s planetary science objectives as described in 2018 NASA Strategic Plan and the 2018 NASA Science Plan. The 2018 NASA Strategic Plan will be publicly released concurrent with the submission of the FY 2019 budget to Congress; the 2018 NASA Science Plan will be released at a later time. However, for planning purposes, it is to be expected that the planetary science objectives contained in these plans will be very similar to those in the 2014 Plans.

Participation is open to all categories of organizations (U.S.), including educational institutions, industry, not-for-profit organizations, Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs), NASA Centers, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), and other Government agencies

Investigations may focus on any body in the Solar System, excluding the Earth and the Sun. Investigations may not focus on the identification or characterization of extra-solar planetary systems.

Discovery Program investigations may propose activities that have the potential to broaden the scientific impact of investigations as optional Science Enhancement Options (SEOs). SEOs include, but are not limited to, guest investigator programs, general observer programs, participating scientist programs, interdisciplinary scientist programs, and archival data analysis programs.  NASA intends to assume that all selected Discovery missions will offer a Participating Scientist or Guest Investigator Program and that the Discovery Data Analysis Program will be opened to proposals to analyze data produced by such missions once those data have been certified by the Planetary Data System or an equivalent archive; proposals should only describe SEOs other than Participating Scientist, Guest Investigator, or data analysis programs.  Proposals for extended missions will be entertained as part of the triennial Senior Review and need not be described in proposals.

NASA values the use of innovative, new technologies and encourages the demonstration of them in mission-relevant environments. Discovery Program investigations may therefore propose Technology Demonstration Opportunities (TDOs) to demonstrate new capabilities. TDO proposals, like Science Enhancement Opportunities (SEOs), are funded outside of the cost cap and may possibly not be selected even if the parent mission is selected for flight.

As in the past, NASA expects to incentivize the infusion of NASA-developed technologies into science missions. The specific technologies to be incentivized have not yet been selected.  More information about the Technology Infusion options in the AO, as well as information about a Discovery Program Technology Day, will be announced at a future date.

Discovery Program investigations involving entry, descent, and landing (EDL) into the atmosphere of a Solar System object (including the Earth) shall include an Engineering Science Activity, to be funded outside of the cost cap, to obtain diagnostic and technical data about vehicle performance and entry environments. Details of the goals and objectives of this activity will be posted on the Discovery Program Acquisition Website ( in the Program Library.

Discovery Program investigations may not propose the use of radio-isotope power systems (RPSs). Proposed investigations may include the use of radioactive sources for science instruments and the use of radioisotope heater units (RHUs).

Launch Vehicle costs and procurement will be the responsibility of NASA. Launch vehicle standard services will be provided as GFE and the cost will not be included in the cost cap. The cost of mission specific and special launch services, including the use of radioisotope heating units (RHUs), is the responsibility of the PI and must be included within the cost cap. NASA is reviewing the possibility of offering options for different launch vehicle capabilities and their impact on the cost cap using an approach similar to that of the 2014 Discovery AO.

Constraints on the value of foreign contributions introduced in the previous Discovery AO remain in place: the total value of foreign contributions may not exceed one-third of the PI-Managed Mission Cost and the value of foreign contributions to the science payload may not exceed one-third of value of the science payload.

Investigations will be capped at a Phase A-D cost of $495M (FY19), excluding standard launch services. The now-standard 25% minimum reserve on Phases A-D will be required within the cost cap. Operations and close-out costs (Phases E and F) are not included in the cost cap but will be evaluated for reasonableness. Lower-cost investigations and cost-efficient operations are encouraged.

The time frame for this solicitation is intended to be:

Release of Draft AO………………………………. September 2018 (target)

Release of final AO……………………………….. February 2019 (target)

Pre-proposal conference……………………….. ~3 weeks after final AO release

Proposals due………………………………………. 90 days after AO release

Selection for competitive Phase A studies… December 2019 (target)

Concept study reports due……………………… November 2020 (target)

Down-selection……………………………………… June 2021 (target)

Launch readiness date…………………………… NLT December 31, 2026

The Discovery AO will be based on the Standard PI-led Mission AO Template available at  Proposers should read the Discovery AO carefully when it is released.

NASA has not approved the issuance of the Discovery AO and this notification does not obligate NASA to issue the AO and solicit proposals. Any costs incurred by prospective investigators in preparing submissions in response to this notification or the planned Discovery AO are incurred completely at the submitter’s own risk.

Further information will be posted on the Discovery Program Acquisition Page at as it becomes available. Questions may be addressed to Dr. Michael New, Discovery Program Lead Scientist, Science Mission Directorate, NASA, Washington, DC  20546; Tel.: (202) 358-1766; Email: [email protected].