The planets of the solar system as depicted by a NASA computer illustration. Orbits and sizes are not shown to scale.
NASA will announce a new planetary mission today (Aug. 20) as part of its Discovery Program to explore the solar system on a budget.
The new mission will be unveiled at 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT) during a teleconference with reporters to announce "the selection of a new Discovery-class mission that will further NASA's exploration of the solar system," space agency officials said in an announcement.
The mission will be one of three finalists that were picked for final review by NASA in May 2011 and should be ready to launch in 2016. Those finalists are:
- The Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight), which would study the structure and composition of the interior of Mars, potentially improving our understanding of the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets (this project was formerly known as GEMS);
- The Titan Mare Explorer (TiME), which would land in and float on a large methane-ethane sea on Saturn's moon Titan, providing the first direct exploration of an ocean beyond Earth; [Video: Targeting Titan: by Land, Sea and Air]
- Comet Hopper, which would land on a comet multiple times and observe its changes as it interacts with the sun.
Today's mission announcement will be made by the following speakers:
- John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator, NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington;
- James Green, director, NASA's Planetary Science Division, Washington.
The new mission will be NASA's 12th Discovery-class mission and is expected to have a fixed budget of $425 million, according to the space agency's past statements. The Discovery Program was created in 1992 and is primarily aimed at fostering cost-effect space exploration missions with "highly focused scientific goals," agency officials said.
Recent NASA missions under the Discovery Program include the space agency's Dawn spacecraft to asteroids Vesta and Ceres, as well as the Messenger orbiter currently at Mercury.
The public can follow today's NASA announcement by listening to the teleconference online here: http://www.nasa.gov/newsaudio