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Header of the Discovery program website (January 2016)[1]
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Depictions of Lucy and Psyche missions
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Asteroid Eros regolith, as viewed by Discovery's NEAR Shoemaker mission

"NASA's Discovery Program is a series of lower-cost (as compared to "New Frontiers or "Flagship Programs), highly focused American scientific space missions that are exploring the Solar System. It was founded in 1992 to implement then-NASA Administrator "Daniel S. Goldin's vision of "faster, better, cheaper" planetary missions. Discovery missions differ from traditional NASA missions where targets and objectives are pre-specified. Instead, these cost-capped missions are proposed and led by a scientist called the "Principal Investigator (PI). Proposing teams may include people from industry, small businesses, government laboratories, and universities. Proposals are selected through a competitive peer review process. All of the completed Discovery missions are accomplishing ground-breaking science and adding significantly to the body of knowledge about the Solar System.

NASA also accepts proposals for competitively selected Discovery Program Missions of Opportunity. This provides opportunities to participate in non-NASA missions by providing funding for a science instrument or hardware components of a science instrument or to re-purpose an existing NASA spacecraft. These opportunities are currently offered through NASA's Stand Alone Mission of Opportunity program.

On January 4, 2017 NASA announced that the next discovery mission selection included the double-selection of ''"Lucy'', to visit several asteroids and Trojans, and ''"Psyche'', to visit the metal asteroid Psyche, as the thirteenth and fourteenth Discovery missions, respectively.[2]

Contents

History[edit]

In 1989, the Solar System Exploration Division (SSED) at NASA Headquarters initiated a series of workshops to define a new strategy for exploration through the year 2000. The panels included a Small Mission Program Group (SMPG) that was chartered to devise a rationale for missions that would be low cost and allow focused scientific questions to be addressed in a relatively short time.[3] A fast-paced study for a potential mission was requested and funding arrangements were made in 1990. The new program was called 'Discovery' and the panel assessed a number of concepts that could be implemented as low-cost programs, with 'Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous' (NEAR) as the first mission to be implemented.[3] On February 17, 1996, NEAR became the first mission to launch in the Discovery Program.[3] The "Mars Pathfinder launched on December 4, 1996, demonstrated a number of innovative, economical, and highly effective approaches to spacecraft and planetary mission design such as the inflated air bags that allowed the "Sojourner rover to endure the landing.[3] Note that the two "Mars Exploration Rovers, "Opportunity and "Spirit, were not a part of the Discovery Program, although they did re-use the overall landing system of Mars Pathfinder. Also, Phoenix and MAVEN were in the "Mars Scout Program and not the Discovery program.

Mission timeline[edit]

Psyche (spacecraft) Lucy (spacecraft) InSight Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory Kepler (spacecraft) Dawn (spacecraft) EPOXI Deep Impact (spacecraft) MESSENGER CONTOUR Genesis (spacecraft) Stardust (spacecraft)#New Exploration of Tempel 1 (NExT) Stardust (spacecraft) Lunar Prospector Mars Pathfinder NEAR Shoemaker

Missions[edit]

Standalone missions[edit]

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Asteroid "253 Mathilde
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Mars Pathfinder's view
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Animation of the rotation of 433 Eros.
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MESSENGER imaging Mercury's surface hollows at "Sholem Aleichem.[6]
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Insight lander in assembly (April 2015, NASA)

Missions of opportunity[edit]

This provides opportunities to participate in non-NASA missions by providing funding for a science instrument or hardware components of a science instrument, or specific extended mission for spacecraft that may different from its original purpose. Some examples include: M3, EPOXI, EPOCH, DIXI, and NEXT.

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Nucleus of Comet Hartley 2

Examples of proposals[edit]

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Possible configuration of a lunar sample return spacecraft
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Mercury by Discovery's MESSENGER

However often the funding comes in, there is a selection process with perhaps 2 dozen concepts. These sometimes get further matured and re-proposed in another selection or program.[22] An example of this is Suess-Urey Mission, which was passed over in favor of the successful "Stardust mission, but was eventually flown as "Genesis,[22] while a more extensive mission similar to INSIDE was flown as "Juno in the "New Frontiers program. Some of these concepts went on to become actual missions, or similar concepts were eventually realized in another mission class. This list is a mix of previous and current proposals.

Additional examples of Discovery-class mission proposals include:

Mars focused
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Mars Geyser Hopper would investigate 'spider' features on Mars, as imaged by an orbiter. Image size: 1 km (0.62 mi) across.
Lunar focused
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The Venus Multiprobe Mission involved sending 16 atmospheric probes into Venus in 1999.[52]
Venus focused

Selection process[edit]

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Mars Pathfinder's Sojourner mini-rover takes its Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer measurement of the "Yogi Rock (1997)

The first two Discovery missions were "Mars Pathfinder and "Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) (later called Shoemaker NEAR) These initial missions did not follow the same selection process that started once the program was under-way.[63] Mars Pathfinder was salvaged from the idea for a technology and EDL demonstrator from the "Mars Environmental Survey program.[63] Also, one of the goals of Pathfinder was to support the Mars Surveyor program.[63] Later missions would be selected by a more sequential process involving Announcements of Opportunity.[63] NEAR again has a slightly different background: when Discovery was established in 1990, soon after a working group for the program recommended that the first mission should be to a near-Earth asteroid.[64] A series of proposals limited to missions to a Near-Earth asteroid missions was reviewed in 1991.[64] What would be the NEAR spacecraft mission was formally selected in December 1993, after which a 2-year development period would follow prior to launch.[64] NEAR was launched on February 15, 1996, and arrived to orbit asteroid Eros on February 14, 2000.[64] Mars Pathfinder launched on December 4, 1996 and would land on the planet Mars on July 4, 1997, bringing along with it the first NASA Mars rover.[65]

Discovery 3 and 4[edit]

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Thorium concentrations on the Moon, as mapped by Lunar Prospector

In August 1994, NASA made an announcement of opportunity for the next proposed Discovery missions.[66] There were 28 proposals submitted to NASA in October 1994:[66]

  1. ASTER- Asteroid Earth Return
  2. Comet Nucleus Penetrator
  3. Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR)
  4. Cometary Coma Chemical Composition (C4)
  5. Diana (Lunar and Cometary Mission)
  6. FRESIP-A mission to Find the Frequency of Earth-sized Inner Planets
  7. Hermes Global Orbiter (Mercury Orbiter)
  8. Icy Moon Mission (Lunar Orbiter)
  9. Interlune-One (Lunar Rovers)[67]
  10. Jovian Integrated Synoptic Telescope (IO Torus investigation)
  11. Lunar Discovery Orbiter [68]
  12. "Lunar Prospector (Lunar Orbiter) Chosen in February 1995 for Discovery 3.
  13. Mainbelt Asteroid Exploration/Rendezvous
  14. Mars Aerial Platform (Atmospheric)
  15. Mars Polar Pathfinder (Polar Lander)
  16. Mars Upper Atmosphere Dynamics, Energetics and Evolution
  17. Mercury Polar Flyby
  18. Near Earth Asteroid Returned Sample
  19. Origin of Asteroids, Comets and Life on Earth
  20. PELE: A Lunar Mission to Study Planetary Volcanism
  21. Planetary Research Telescope
  22. Rendezvous with a Comet Nucleus (RECON)
  23. Suess-Urey (Solar Wind Sample Return) Discovery 4 finalist.
  24. Small Missions to Asteroids and Comets
  25. "Stardust (Cometary/Interstellar Dust Return) Discovery 4 finalist.
  26. Venus Composition Probe (Atmospheric)
  27. Venus Environmental Satellite (Atmospheric)
  28. Venus Multi-Probe Mission(Atmospheric)[69] Discovery 4 finalist.
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Stardust succeeded. Comet Wild 2 shown here

In February 1995 Lunar Prospector, a lunar orbiter mission, was selected for launch, as NASA decided it was mature enough it could go directly to development without a final selection. Three other missions were left to undergo a further selection later in 1995 for the fourth Discovery mission, Stardust, Suess-Urey, and Venus Multiprobe.[66] Stardust, a comet sample return mission, was selected in November 1995 over the two other finalists.[70]

Discovery 5 and 6[edit]

In October 1997, NASA selected "Genesis and "Contour as the next Discovery missions, out of 34 proposals that were submitted in December 1996.[71]

The five finalists were:[72]

Discovery 7 and 8[edit]

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Deep Impact nails a comet nucleus

In July 1999, NASA selected Messenger and Deep Impact as the next Discovery program missions.[73] Messenger was the first Mercury orbiter and mission to that planet since "Mariner 10, and the Deep Impact sent a projectile into the comet "Tempel 1.[73] Both missions targeted a launch in late 2004 and the cost was constrained at about $300 million USD each.[73]

In 1998 five finalists had been selected to receive $375,000 USD to further mature their design concept.[74] The five proposals were selected out of perhaps 30 with the goal of achieving the best science.[74] Those missions were:[74]

Aladdin and Messenger were also finalists in the 1997 selection.[74]

Discovery 9 and 10[edit]

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Scale comparison of Vesta, Ceres, and the Moon
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Kepler spacecraft art

26 proposals were submitted to the 2000 Discovery solicitation, with budget initially targeted at 300 million USD.[75] Three candidates were shortlisted in January 2001 for a phase-A design study: Dawn, Kepler, and INSIDE Jupiter.[76] INSIDE Jupiter was similar to a later New Frontiers mission called "Juno; Dawn is a mission to asteroids "Vesta and "Ceres, and Kepler is a space telescope mission aimed to discover "extrasolar planets. The three finalists received $450,000 USD to further mature the mission proposal.[77]

In December 2001, Kepler and Dawn were selected for flight by NASA.[78] At this time only 80 exoplanets had been detected, and that was part of the mission of Kepler, to look for more exoplanets, especially Earth-sized.[78][79] Both Kepler and Dawn were initially projected for launch in 2006.[75]

The Discovery Program fell on hard-times after this, with several mission experiencing cost overruns, and the CONTOUR mission experiencing an engine failure in orbit. Although both Dawn and Kepler would become widely praised success stories, they missed their somewhat ambitious 2006 launch target, launching in 2007 and 2009 respectively. Kepler would go on to receive a mission extensions, and Dawn likewise successfully orbited both Vesta and Ceres. Nevertheless, the next selection would take longer than previous as the program selection of new missions slowed down. As the successes of the new missions enhanced the image of the Discovery Program, the difficulties began to fade from the limelight. Also, the number of active missions in development or active began to increase as the program ramped up.

Discovery 11[edit]

The announcement of opportunity for this Discovery mission was released in April 2006.[80] There were three finalists for this Discovery selection including GRAIL (the eventual winner), OSIRIS, and VESPER.[81] OSIRIS was very similar to the later "OSIRIS-REx mission, an asteroid sample return mission to "101955 Bennu, and Vesper, a Venus orbiter mission.[81] A previous proposal of Vesper had also been a finalist in the 1998 round of selection.[81] The three finalists were announced in October 2006 and awarded 1.2 million USD to further develop their propoals for the final round.[82]

In November 2007 NASA selected the "GRAIL mission as the next discovery mission, with a goal of mapping Lunar gravity and a 2011 launch.[83] There were 23 other proposals that were also under consideration.[83] The mission had budget of $375 million USD (then-year dollars) which included construction and also the launch.[83]

Discovery 12[edit]

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Artist's impression of proposed TiME lake lander for Saturn's moon Titan

This was an especially tough selection: coming on the heels of a successful Mars rover landing and the termination of the "Mars Scout program (parent program of Phoenix and MAVEN), it meant that the proposals to the very popular red-planet competed with more obscure destinations. On the other hand, "Titan had just been landed on by Huygens and Comets were getting the full-treatment by the flagship-class ESA Rosetta mission.

28 proposals were received in 2010; according to the "BBC, 3 were for the Moon, 4 for Mars, 7 for Venus, 1 Jupiter, 1 to a Jupiter Trojan, 2 to Saturn, 7 to asteroids, and 3 to Comets.[84][85] Out of the 28, three finalists received US$3 million in May 2011 to develop a detailed concept study:[86]

In August 2012, InSight was selected for development and launch.[87]

Discovery 13 and 14[edit]

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NASA made the "NEXT ion thruster technology available for proposals for the thirteenth Discovery Program mission.[88]

"Lucy and "Psyche are the 13th and 14th Discovery missions, respectively.[2][89]

In February 2014, NASA released a Discovery Program 'Draft Announcement of Opportunity' for launch readiness date of December 31, 2021.[90] The main mission was budgeted for up to 450 million USD, with various conditions but also bonuses available beyond this to support advancement of various technologies.[88][91][92]

On September 30, 2015, NASA selected five mission concepts—DAVINCI, VERITAS, Lucy, NEOcam and Psyche—as semifinalists.[93][94] Each of the five semifinalists received $3 million for one-year of further study and concept refinement.[95][96]

On January 4, 2017, Lucy and Psyche were selected as the 13th and 14th Discovery missions, respectively.[2][89]

Summary[edit]

Discovery has visited asteroids, comets, Mars, Mercury, and the Moon. There were two sample return missions, one for comet dust, another for solar wind, and that also detected "interstellar dust, and one observatory focused on finding exoplanets

Discovery Program
""Near Shoemaker.jpg
""Lander and rover drawing.gif
""LPnosunm.jpeg
""Stardust - Concepcao artistica.jpg
""Genesis in collection mode.jpg
""MESSENGER - spacecraft at mercury - atmercury lg.jpg
"NEAR
1996
"Mars Pathfinder
1996
"Lunar Prospector
1998
"Stardust
1999
"Genesis
2001
"MESSENGER
2004
""Deep Impact.jpg
""Dawn Flight Configuration 2.jpg
""Keplerspacecraft-FocalPlane-cutout.svg
""GRAIL's gravity map of the moon.jpg
""InSight Lander.jpg
""Lucy--mission-13--v3.png
"Deep Impact
2005
"Dawn
2007
"Kepler Observatory
2009
"GRAIL
2011
"InSight
2018
"Lucy
2021
""PIA21275 - Psyche Artist's Concept.jpg
"Psyche
2022

Mission insignias[edit]

This section includes an image of most of the Discovery missions' patches or logos where available, as well as the launch year

Discovery Program
""Mars Pathfinder Insignia.png
""Lunar Prospector insignia.png
""Stardust - starlogo.png
""Genesis Sample Return Sticker.jpg
""MESSENGER mission emblem.png
"NEAR
1996
"Mars Pathfinder
1996
"Lunar Prospector
1998
"Stardust
1999
"Genesis
2001
"MESSENGER
2004
""Deep Impact Mission Patch.png
""Dawn logo.png
""Kepler Logo.png
""GRAIL - GRAIL-logo-sm.png
""InSight Mission Logo (transparent).png
"Deep Impact
2005
"Dawn
2007
"Kepler Observatory
2009
"GRAIL
2011
"InSight
2018
"Lucy
2021
 
"Psyche
2022

Launches[edit]

This section includes an image of most of the Discovery missions' rockets, as well as the launch year

Discovery Program
""Launch of NEAR on a Delta II 7925-8.jpg
""Mars Pathfinder launch.jpg
""Athena-2 - Lunar Prospector 2.jpg
""Stardust - launch photo - ksc9902074.jpg
""Genesis Launch.jpg
""Delta 7925H MESSENGER ignition.jpg
"NEAR
1996
"Mars Pathfinder
1996
"Lunar Prospector
1998
"Stardust
1999
"Genesis
2001
"MESSENGER
2004
""Delta II 7925 (2925) rocket with Deep Impact.jpg
""Dawn ignition.jpg
""Ignition of Kepler's Delta II 7925-10L.jpg
""GRAIL on the Pad.jpg
"Deep Impact
2005
"Dawn
2007
"Kepler Observatory
2009
"GRAIL
2011
"InSight
2018
"Lucy
2021
 
"Psyche
2022

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