NASA Preparing for Next Discovery Solicitation

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NASA plans to select the next Discovery-class planetary science mission in October 2016, the agency said in an online note posted Feb. 19.

A draft solicitation for the competitively selected mission is expected in May, according to NASA’s note. The final solicitation will be released in September, with a preproposal conference to follow three weeks later. Proposals are due 90 days after the release of the final solicitation, NASA said.

NASA will pick two or three Discovery proposals around May 2015 to receive $3 million for nine-month mission concept studies. Based on the studies, NASA will select a single mission to proceed into development, with a budget capped at $450 million, excluding launch.

Missions that require any sort of radioisotope power supply — for example, the sort of nuclear battery used by the Curiosity rover on Mars — will not be considered, NASA said. In addition, proposed missions may be required to accommodate NASA-developed laser communications payload.

Finally, NASA may provide some government furnished equipment for the mission, including the NASA Evolutionary Xenon Thruster ion propulsion system, or a new thermal protection system known as Heat Shield for Extreme Entry Environment Technology.

The agency picked its last Discovery mission, the 12th in the series, back in August 2012. The Lockheed Martin-built Mars lander Insight is due to launch in March 2016 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.