The launch of NASA’s New Frontiers program has already given rise to three missions — the New Horizons Mission to Pluto, the Juno mission to Jupiter, and OSIRIS-REx: the mission to asteroid Bennu. NASA is now reviewing 12 proposal that it has received for the fourth mission of the New Frontiers portfolio. All of these proposals will be reviewed from scientific and technical points of view over the next few months following which NASA will choose one mission to be launched around 2024.
This new mission will be developed by NASA in 2019 and is expected to have a budget cap of up to $1 billion. According to the agency’s official website, there are six mission themes that are being considered:
- Comet Surface Sample Return
- Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return
- Ocean Worlds (Titan and/or Enceladus)
- Saturn Probe
- Trojan Tour and Rendezvous
- Venus In Situ Explorer
In a recent talk, one of the project scientist’s on the Cassini probe (targeting Saturn and its rings) mission stated that three of the proposals want to continue the probe’s work investigating Saturn. One wants to bring back gas from the planet’s atmosphere, the second aims to explore Titan’s hydrocarbon lakes, and the third intends to analyse samples from the geysers of Enceladus to see if there are amino acids present which are a possible indicator of life.
The three New Frontiers missions that have been launched have already started gathering data. The New Horizons probe was launched in January 2006 and reached Pluto in July 2015 when it took a little over a day to gather its information but almost 15 months to send all the data that it captured. It is now headed to the Kuiper Belt to gather more information.
The Juno mission reached Jupiter in July 2016 and still remains there, studying the composition and structure of this massive planet. OSIRIS-REx was launched in September 2016 and is expected to reach the asteroid Bennu is 2018. It will orbit the asteroid until March 2021 and hopefully send a sample back to Earth by 2023.
As all three of the New Frontiers missions have met with success in collecting data from their respective targets, it can be assumed that NASA’s next mission will also reveal a lot of fascinating discoveries and unknown data that can help us understand our Solar System better.