NASA confirms multi-year delay in next New Frontiers competition

WASHINGTON — NASA has confirmed it’s delaying the discharge of the decision for proposals for the subsequent New Frontiers planetary science mission, initially deliberate for this fall, to no sooner than 2026 due to finances points.

In a group announcement printed Aug. 24, NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) stated the announcement of alternative (AO) for the fifth New Frontiers mission could be delayed and that the potential checklist of missions eligible for choice might be altered.

“Funds uncertainty within the Planetary Science Division (PSD) makes launch of the AO in 2023 and subsequent choice of a brand new mission tough,” the company stated within the announcement. “NASA SMD’s new goal is not any sooner than 2026 for the discharge of the ultimate AO.”

Till this summer time, NASA had been working in direction of a launch of the ultimate AO for the New Frontiers mission in November. That included the discharge of a draft model of the AO in January to solicit suggestions on its contents from the scientific group.

By the summer time, although, NASA slowed down these plans, citing uncertainty linked to a debt-ceiling settlement that retains funding for non-defense discretionary companies, like NASA, flat in fiscal yr 2024 with a 1% enhance in 2025. Company management stated in June that the settlement would imply NASA was unlikely to get the total $27.2 billion it requested for 2024, creating “challenges” for company applications.

At a NASA SMD city corridor assembly July 27, Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division, warned a possible prolonged delay within the launch of the New Frontiers AO. “If the planetary science funding ranges which are anticipated because of this tight finances setting are literally realized over the subsequent two or so years,” she stated, “it’s unlikely we’ll be capable of solicit New Frontiers maybe not earlier than 2026.” That delay was made official with the discharge of the group announcement.

The draft AO sought proposals for missions on six matters, as really helpful by the planetary science decadal survey in 2011: a comet floor pattern return, a mission to Jupiter’s volcanic moon Io, a lunar geophysical community, a pattern return mission to the moon’s South Pole-Aitken Basin, a mission to characterize the potential habitability of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus and a probe of Saturn’s ambiance.

The lengthy delay, although, might trigger NASA to vary that checklist, based mostly on steering from the newest planetary science decadal survey printed in 2022. That report didn’t advocate modifications to the checklist of potential missions for the fifth New Frontiers competitors, however did provide suggestions for the targets for the sixth and seventh missions, which the decadal anticipated being competed over the subsequent decade.

The decadal survey’s checklist for the sixth New Frontiers competitors retained the comet floor pattern return, lunar geophysical community and Saturn probe ideas, and added an orbiter and lander mission to a Centaur small physique within the outer photo voltaic system, a Ceres pattern return mission, a a number of flyby mission of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, an orbiter of Saturn’s moon Titan and a Venus in-situ explorer.

Locally announcement, NASA stated that it might ask the Nationwide Academies to evaluation what potential mission ideas from the 2 lists ought to be included within the delayed AO. “This additionally supplies a possibility to replace the science aims for the mission themes based mostly on the just lately launched planetary decadal survey,” the announcement added.

The delay comes after many scientists had already began planning for proposed missions, together with establishing partnerships and starting work on spacecraft design and science targets. The draft AO had projected a proposal deadline of April 2024, 5 months after the discharge of the ultimate AO. NASA deliberate to pick a number of proposals on the finish of 2024 for Section A research lasting to early 2026. NASA projected choosing a type of finalists as the subsequent New Frontiers mission in late 2026, launching between 2031 and 2034.

The draft AO set a value of $900 million to develop the mission, with a further $300 million for operations. Nevertheless, the decadal survey final yr really helpful growing the associated fee cap for growth and operations to $1.65 billion, plus an allowance of $30 million a yr for “quiet cruise” operations for missions with lengthy transit instances. Not one of the price caps included launch.

NASA has chosen 4 New Frontiers missions so far. Three have launched: the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, the Juno mission orbiting Jupiter and OSIRIS-REx, which is returning samples from the asteroid Bennu in September. The fourth, the Dragonfly mission to Titan, is in growth for launch in 2027.

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