Space Science Missions in Development
The missions below are currently being prepared for launch and operations. The list is organized in order of scheduled launch/completion; dates are subject to change.
Space InfraRed Telescope Facility (Launch: 2003 April)
SIRTF, the last of NASA’s four Great Observatories, will be a cryogenically cooled observatory to conduct infrared astronomy from space. SIRTF will consist of a 0.85-meter diameter telescope and three scientific instruments capable of performing imaging and spectroscopy in the 3-180 micron wavelength regime. Incorporating the latest in large-format infrared detector array technology, SIRTF will do for infrared astronomy what the Hubble Space Telescope has done in its unveiling of the visible universe.
Galaxy Evolution Explorer (Launch: 2003 April)
GALEX was selected in 1997 October as a Small Explorer mission. GALEX will use an ultraviolet telescope during its two-year mission to explore the origin and evolution of galaxies and the origins of stars and heavy elements. GALEX will detect millions of galaxies out to a distance of billions of light years and also will conduct an all-sky ultraviolet survey.
Mars Exploration Rovers (Launch: 2003 May/July)
In 2003, two powerful new Mars rovers will be on their way to the red planet. With far greater mobility than the 1997 Mars Pathfinder rover, these robotic explorers will be able to trek up to 100 meters (about 110 yards) across the surface each Martian day. Each rover will carry a sophisticated set of instruments that will allow it to search for evidence of liquid water that may have been present in the planet’s past. The rovers will be identical to each other, but will land at different regions of Mars.
Mars Express / Analyzer of Space Plasmas and Energetic Atoms (Launch: 2003 June)
NASA is participating in a mission planned by the European Space Agency and the Italian space agency called Mars Express , which will explore the atmosphere and surface of Mars from polar orbit. NASA’s involvement includes joint development of the radar instrument with the Italian space agency; support of U.S. science co-investigators; coordination of radio relay systems to make sure that different spacecraft will operate with each other; a hardware contribution to the energetic neutral atoms analyzer instrument; and the provision of backup tracking support during critical mission phases by NASA’s Deep Space Network.
Our contribution to the energetic neutral atoms analyzer instrument is called ASPERA-3. ASPERA-3 was selected as a Discovery mission of opportunity; the complete instrument will study the interaction between the solar wind and the atmosphere of Mars, and attempt to find out what happened to the large amount of water that was once on Mars. The co-investigator being funded by NASA is Dr. David Winningham of the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, TX.
Two Wide-Angle Imaging Neutral-Atom Spectrometers (Launch: 2003 July)
Selected in October 1997 as an Explorers mission of opportunity, TWINS will provide stereo imaging of the Earth’s magnetosphere, the region surrounding the planet controlled by its magnetic field and containing the Van Allen radiation belts and other energetic charged particles. TWINS will enable three-dimensional global visualization of this region, which will lead to greatly enhanced understanding of the connections between different regions of the magnetosphere and their relation to the solar wind.
The Relativity Mission – Gravity Probe-B (Launch: 2003 November)
The experiment now known as Gravity Probe B was conceived more than 30 years ago. The aim of the experiment is to measure, rather precisely, an effect that is predicted by all viable relativistic theories of gravity but has not yet been observed. Just as Newton’s law of gravity is paralleled by Coulomb’s law of electricity, so also it is expected that the force between currents of electrical charge, described by Ampere’s law, should be paralleled by a force between “currents” of flowing matter. It is this force that has never been directly observed.
Swift Gamma Ray Burst Explorer (Launch: 2003 December)
Swift is a three-telescope space observatory for studying the position, brightness, and physical properties of gamma ray bursts. Although gamma ray bursts are the largest known explosions in the Universe, outshining the rest of the Universe when they explode unpredictably in distant galaxies, their underlying nature and the cause of the explosion are true mysteries of astrophysics. Swift was selected in October 1999 as a MIDEX mission.
Coupled Ion-Neutral Dynamics Investigation (Launch: 2004 January)
CINDI is a mission to understand the dynamics of the Earth’s ionosphere. CINDI will provide two instruments for the Communication/Navigation Outage Forecast System (C/NOFS) satellite, a project of the United State Air Force. CINDI was selected for flight as a Mission of Opportunity under the SMEX-2000 AO .
Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry and Ranging (Launch: 2004 March)
MESSENGER was selected in July 1999 as a future Discovery mission. It will send an orbiter spacecraft carrying seven instruments to globally image and study Mercury, the closest planet to the Sun.
Space Technology 5 (Launch: 2004 July)
ST5, or the Nanosat Constellation Trailblazer mission, is the fourth deep space mission in our New Millennium Program. ST5 will test methods for operating a constellation of spacecraft as a single system, using three miniature spacecraft. Each spacecraft is about the size of a birthday cake. The mission will also test eight innovative new technologies.
Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission 4 (Launch: 2004 November)
The Hubble Space Telescope (launched 1990 April 25) is an operational program that continues to generate major scientific discoveries. Servicing Mission 4 will focus on installing the new Cosmic Origins Spectrograph and the Wide Field Camera 3 science instruments.
Deep Impact (Launch: 2004 December)
Deep Impact was selected in July 1999 as a future Discovery mission. It is designed to fire a copper projectile weighing about 350 kilograms (about 770 pounds) into the comet P/Tempel 1, excavating a large crater more than 20 meters (65 feet) deep, in order to expose its pristine interior ice and rock.
Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (First Science Flight: 2004 December)
NASA and the German space agency, DLR, are working together to create SOFIA – a Boeing 747-SP aircraft modified to accommodate a 2.5 meter reflecting telescope. SOFIA will be the largest airborne telescope in the world, and will make observations that are impossible for even the largest and highest of ground-based telescopes. The observatory is being developed and operated for NASA by a team led by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA).
Space Technology 6 (Launch: 2004)
Three new technologies were selected in October 2001 for the ST6 mission. The technologies will be demonstrated on different spacecraft.
Autonomous Rendezvous in Low-Earth Orbit – This high-precision autonomous rendezvous system will allow two spacecraft to approach and meet each other in close proximity.
Autonomous Sciencecraft Constellation – This software will give a future spacecraft unprecedented decision-making capabilities, allowing it to process data onboard, make intelligent decisions to downlink data that it deems scientifically important, and choose science observations that appear interesting.
Low Power Avionics Sensor Suite – A miniature star camera and microscopic gyro will enable a spacecraft to determine its orientation whether it is spinning or stable. It will also enable a spacecraft to sense its position and recover its orientation after a power loss.
Astro-E2 (Launch: 2005 February)
In July 2001, we announced that we would participate with Japan in rebuilding the Astro-E spacecraft . The original Astro-E was launched February 10, 2000, but there was a problem with the first stage of the Japanese rocket, and the satellite was declared unusable. Astro-E2 will provide powerful tools to use the Universe as a laboratory for unraveling complex, high-energy processes and the behavior of matter under extreme conditions.
2005 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (Launch: 2005 August)
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will focus on analyzing the surface at new scales in an effort to follow tantalizing hints of water detected in images from the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, and to bridge the gap between surface observations and measurements from orbit. For example, the Reconnaissance Orbiter will measure thousands of Martian landscapes at 20- to 30-centimeter (8- to 12-inch) resolution, good enough to observe rocks the size of beach balls.
Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (Launch: 2005)
AMS is an experiment to search for antimatter in space. It has flown previously on the space shuttle ( STS-91, 1998 June ) and is scheduled for launch to the international space station on ISS User Flight 4 (UF-4).
Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (Launch: 2005 November)
Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are powerful eruptions in which as much as ten billion tons of the Sun’s atmosphere can be blown into interplanetary space. The goal of STEREO is to understand the origin coronal mass ejections and their consequences for Earth. The mission will consist of two spacecraft, one leading and the other lagging Earth in its orbit. The spacecraft will each carry instrumentation for solar imaging and for in-situ sampling of the solar wind. STEREO is a Solar Terrestrial Probe mission.
Solar-B (Launch: 2006 September)
Solar-B is a Japanese ISAS mission proposed as a follow-on to the highly successful Japan/US/UK Yohkoh (Solar-A) collaboration. The mission consists of a coordinated set of optical, EUV and X-ray instruments that will study the interaction between the Sun’s magnetic field and its high temperature, ionized atmosphere. The result will be an improved understanding of the mechanisms which give rise to solar magnetic variability and how this variability modulates the total solar output and creates the driving force behind space weather.
Herschel (Launch: 2007)
Herschel is cornerstone number 4 (CS4) in the European Space Agency’s “Horizon 2000″ science plan. It will permit high spatial and spectral resolution imaging in the 85-900 micron wavelength region. Superb sensitivity for both photometry and spectroscopy will result from Herschel’s high throughput and low thermal background. Herschel will be a multipurpose observatory serving the entire astronomical community. NASA supports U.S. participation on the mission.
Planck (Launch: 2007)
Planck is the third Medium-Sized Mission (M3) of the European Space Agency’s Horizon 2000 Scientific Programme. It is designed to image minor variations in the Cosmic Background Radiation over the whole sky, with unprecedented sensitivity and angular resolution. Planck will provide a major source of information relevant to several cosmological and astrophysical issues, such as testing theories of the early universe and the origin of cosmic structure. NASA supports U.S. participation on the mission.
Rosetta (Launch: TBD)
Rosetta is a European Space Agency cometary mission. The satellite will rendezvous with a comet and orbit it, while taking scientific measurements. A Surface Science Package (SSP) will be landed to the comet surface to take in-situ measurements. The U.S. is providing science instruments for the orbiter.
Space Science Missions Under Study
These missions are in the study phase. They are either expected to eventually enter development, or are potential development starts selected under an Announcement of Opportunity.
You may also be interested in some very preliminary mission concepts .
Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere
AIM is a mission to determine the causes of the highest altitude clouds in the earth’s atmosphere. The number of clouds in the middle atmosphere (mesosphere) over the Earth’s poles has been increasing over the past couple of decades, and it is hypothesized that this results from increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases at high altitudes. AIM will determine the connection between the clouds and their environment and lead to the study of long-term changes in the upper atmosphere and global climate change.
Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Survey
ARES offers to provide the first in situ measurements of the near-surface atmospheric chemistry within the Mars planetary-boundary layer, thereby providing critical clues to the chemical evolution of the planet, climate history, and potential biological activity. ARES was selected for study as a potential Mars Scout mission in December 2002.
Constellation-X has been designed to perform X-ray spectroscopy with unprecedented sensitivity and spectral resolution. The measurement of large numbers of X-ray spectral lines in hot plasmas leads to determining the elemental composition, temperature, and velocity of the emitting matter. Astronomers will determine the flow of gas in accretion disks around black holes in active galactic nuclei and in binary X-ray sources, measure the population of newly created elements in supernova remnants, and detect the influence of dark matter on the hot intergalactic medium in clusters of galaxies. Constellation-X is identified in the OSS Strategic Plan.
The Dawn mission intends to orbit Vesta and Ceres, two of the largest asteroids in the solar system. According to current theories, the very different properties of Vesta and Ceres are the result of the asteroids being formed and evolving in different parts of the solar system. By observing both asteroids with the same set of instruments, Dawn would probe the early solar system as well as determine in detail the properties of each asteroid. Dawn was selected in December 2001 as a Discovery mission.
Extreme Universe Space Observatory
EUSO would detect the highest-energy cosmic rays known by using the entire Earth as a particle detector. EUSO will look down on the Earth’s atmosphere to observe the characteristic blue light that high-energy cosmic rays generate after hitting the Earth’s atmosphere. EUSO is under study by the European Space Agency for flight on the Columbus module of the ISS, and NASA would provide the large Fresnel lens for the telescope.
Global Electrodynamic Connections
GEC is planned as a cluster of 4 satellites, combined with ground-based observations, that will make systematic multi-point measurements to complete our understanding of the roles played by the ionosphere and thermosphere in the Sun-Earth connection. GEC is a future Solar Terrestrial Probe mission.
The goal of the Geospace missions is to increase understanding of how the Earth?s ionosphere and magnetosphere respond to changes due to solar variability. Geospace is a component of the Living with a Star initiative.
Gamma ray Large Area Space Telescope
GLAST is a joint mission in astrophysics and particle physics which will use particle accelerator detector technology to study the high energy gamma rays from natural particle accelerators throughout the Universe. GLAST will enable us to peer into the relativistic jets streaming from radio galaxies and determine the radiation mechanisms in spinning magnetic neutron stars. The goal of GLAST is to map the sky with 100 times the sensitivity, resolution, and coverage of previous high energy gamma ray missions. GLAST is a collaboration with the Department of Energy and Japan.
Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter
JIMO is an ambitious mission to orbit three planet-sized moons of Jupiter — Callisto, Ganymede and Europa — which may harbor vast oceans beneath their icy surfaces. JIMO would orbit each of these moons for extensive investigations of their makeup, their history and their potential for sustaining life. NASA’s Galileo spacecraft found evidence for these subsurface oceans, a finding that ranks among the major scientific discoveries of the Space Age. The JIMO mission also will raise NASA?s capability for space exploration to a revolutionary new level by pioneering the use of electric propulsion powered by a nuclear fission reactor.
The Kepler mission is a space telescope specifically designed to detect Earth-sized planets around stars in the Sun’s neighborhood of the galaxy. By monitoring 100,000 stars over a four-year mission, Kepler could detect up to 500 Earth-sized planets and up to 1000 Jupiter-sized planets. Kepler was selected in December 2001 as a Discovery mission.
Laser Interferometer Space Antenna
LISA is a gravity wave telescope which will open up one of the last non-electromagnetic channels for studying the Universe. Its goal is to detect gravitational radiation with periods of minutes to hours such as that produced by two coalescing massive black holes in a distant galaxy. LISA will also provide an unprecedented test of strong field general relativity theory. LISA is identified in the OSS Strategic Plan.
The mission of MC is to fly 50-100 (very small) nano-satellites in a constellation, to make multiple remote and in-situ measurements in space and revolutionize the scientific investigations of key physical processes in the Sun-Earth medium. MC is a future Solar-Terrestrial Probe mission.
Broad regions of the Earth’s magnetosphere are connected by fundamental processes operating in thin boundary layers. Processes of vastly different scale sizes can interact strongly. Understanding these fundamental processes requires multipoint measurements that uniquely separate temporal and three-dimensional spatial variations. The MMS mission goal is to make those necessary measurements with a five spacecraft constellation in highly eliptical orbits. MMS is a future Solar-Terrestrial Probe mission.
Mars Surveyor 2007 and future missions
NASA has developed a long-term Mars exploration program that charts a course for the next two decades. The new program incorporates the lessons learned from previous mission successes and failures, and builds on scientific discoveries from past missions. International participation, especially from Italy and France, adds significantly to the plan.
Mars Volcanic Emission and Life Scout
This mission proposes to conduct a global survey of the Martian atmosphere’s photochemistry to search for emissions that could be related to active volcanism or microbial activity, as well as to track the behavior of water in the atmosphere across a full annual cycle. MARVEL was selected for study as a potential Mars Scout mission in December 2002.
On 2001 November 29, we selected New Horizons as a potential Pluto-Kuiper Belt mission to explore the only planet in our Solar System yet to be visited by a spacecraft.
Next Generation Space Telescope
The Next Generation Space Telescope is designed for observations in the far visible to the mid infrared part of the spectrum. This wavelength coverage is different from that of the HST which covers the range from the ultraviolet to the near infrared. NGST will probe the era when stars and galaxies started to form; it will also address many other astronomical questions.
This mission proposes to conduct a stationary, in situ investigation of volatiles (especially water), organic molecules and modern climate. It aims to “follow the water” and measure indicator molecules at high-latitude sites where Mars Odyssey has discovered evidence of large ice concentrations in the Martian soil. Phoenix was selected for study as a potential Mars Scout mission in December 2002.
Sample Collection for Investigation of Mars
This innovative mission would sample Mars’ atmospheric dust and gas using aerogel and use a “free-return trajectory” to bring the samples back to Earth. Such samples could provide breakthrough understanding of the chemistry of Mars, its surface, atmosphere, interior evolution and potential biological activity. SCIM was selected for study as a potential Mars Scout mission in December 2002.
To improve accuracy of space weather predictions, the Sentinels mission will characterize the environment through which solar disturbances propagate and study their evolution. Sentinels is a future mission in our Living with a Star initiative.
Solar Dynamics Observatory
How does the solar interior vary through a solar cycle? How does this variation manifest itself in the structure of the Sun’s corona and heliosphere? What is the origin and effect of sunspots and solar active magnetic regions? SDO is designed to answer these and other questions, and is a future mission in our Living with a Star initiative.
Solar Probe, which will make the first ever measurements within the atmosphere of a star, will provide unambiguous answers to long-standing fundamental questions about how the corona is heated and how the solar wind is accelerated. The spacecraft, which will provide both imaging and in situ measurements, is targeted to pass within 3 solar radii of the Sun’s surface.
Space Interferometry Mission
SIM will be the world’s first long-baseline optical interferometer in space, and a technological precursor to the Terrestrial Planet Finder. With its unprecedented astronomical accuracy and high spatial resolution, SIM will allow indirect detection of planets through observation of thousands of stars, and will investigate the structure of planetary disks.
Space Technology 7
In March 2002 NASA selected two organizations to lead the work on sensor and thrust-producing technologies to control a space vehicle’s flight path so the payload responds only to gravitational forces. The Disturbance Reduction System technology is scheduled to fly in 2006.
Spectroscopy and Photometry of the Intergalactic Medium’s Diffuse Radiation
SPIDR is a mission to map the “cosmic web” of hot gas which spans the Universe. Half of the normal matter in the nearby Universe is in filaments of hot gas, and SPIDR would observe it for the first time. SPIDR’s data will answer fundamental questions concerning the formation and evolution of galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and other large structures in the Universe.
Terrestrial Planet Finder
TPF is currently envisioned as a long baseline infrared interferometer, operating in the 7-20um wavelength range. This range is an excellent region for the direct detection of terrestrial planetary companions to other stars, and also for detecting spectral lines which might indicate a habitable planet.
Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms
THEMIS is a study of the onset of magnetic storms within the tail of the Earth’s magnetosphere. THEMIS will fly five microsatellite probes through different regions of the magnetosphere and observe the onset and evolution of storms. THEMIS will determine the causes of the global reconfigurations of the Earth’s magnetosphere that are evidenced in auroral activity.
Widefield Infrared Survey Explorer
WISE is an infrared telescope designed to survey the entire sky with 1,000 times more sensitivity than previous missions. NGSS would be led by Edward L. Wright of the University of California, Los Angeles. WISE (originally named the Next Generation Sky Survey, NGSS) was selected as a potential Mid-Class Explorer (MIDEX) in April 2002; in March 2003 WISE was approved for further study. A decision on proceeding to flight development with WISE will be made in 2004.