NASA Sorting Through Latest Discovery Proposals

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WASHINGTON — The bidding deadline for NASA’s 13th Discovery mission has passed, and the agency is now vetting proposals from would-be principle investigators vying for up to $450 million in mission funding.

A senior NASA official said the solicitation drew many proposals, which were due Feb. 16.

How many?

“We’re supporting a number teams, which is usually the case.” 
Wanda Sigur, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager for civil space

“I don’t know,” Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science, said in response to the question Feb. 19 from a member of the agency-chartered Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG), an advisory panel that met at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

On the day NASA called pencils down, a senior executive at Lockheed Martin Space Systems said the company is supporting multiple proposals in the 13th Discovery call.

“We’re supporting a number teams, which is usually the case,” Wanda Sigur, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager for civil space, said in a Feb. 16 interview. She declined to be more specific.

Lockheed Martin is NASA’s go-to contractor for planetary probes and the main industry partner on the 12th Discovery mission, the Mars InSight lander, which is slated for launch in March 2016.

NASA expects to pick at least two finalists for the 13th mission around June, with a single award to follow in September. The winner must develop a mission that costs no more than $450 million, excluding the rocket, and launch by Dec. 31, 2021.

NASA kicked off the competition in November. The 14th Discovery competition likely will not start until late 2017, Green said. In a 10-year science roadmap, or decadal survey, released in 2011, the planetary science community recommended a two-year launch cadence for discovery missions.

Green said once every three years is about the best NASA can do in the current budget environment. “The budget does not support 24-month cadence,” Green said.