NASA is looking toward the future, as it has received 12 proposals for future missions within our Solar System. These 12 proposals will be considered as part of New Frontiers, a program that has already given us some pretty impressive and informative missions. Don’t expect to see the next mission launch anytime soon, though, as NASA says we likely won’t see the next New Frontiers mission lift off until the mid-2020s.
Those unfamiliar with the New Frontiers program may know it better by the individual missions in its portfolio. New Frontiers is responsible for the New Horizons spacecraft, which became the first spacecraft to explore Pluto and is now on its way to the Kuiper Belt. New Frontiers also gave us the Juno spacecraft, which is currently studying Jupiter from its orbit around the planet.
The 12 proposals NASA has received will be subjected to “scientific and technical review” over the next seven months. Once that review is finished, NASA will select one or more of the proposals for Phase A concept studies – those proposals that move on will be announced in November. After narrowing down the pool in November, NASA will select one to continue into later mission phases, but it doesn’t expect to pick the winner in this case for another two years.
NASA doesn’t get too terribly specific about what these proposals are, but it does say that they were limited to six themes. They’re all pretty interesting themes, and the mission we see could involve collecting samples from comets, exploring ocean worlds like Titan, or developing a Saturn probe. Here’s the full list:
– 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
With a development cost cap of around $1 billion, this is certainly an exciting time for NASA and the New Frontiers program. With launch not planned until the mid-2020s, though, it’s probably going to be quite some time before we hear from this fourth New Frontiers mission again. In the meantime, we’ve always got our missions to our big red neighbor to look forward to.