NASA has shortlisted four candidates this week to become the next mission of its “Discovery” program, an initiative of moderate-budget missions aimed at specific scientific objectives. The four candidates are designed to visit little-known places full of mysteries.
Two of the missions are designed to visit Venus, a planet that was intensely explored in the 1980s, and the others are aimed at two icy moons in the orbits of Jupiter and Uranus.
“These missions have the potential to transform our understanding of some of the most active and complex worlds in the solar system,” he said in a statement.
Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of the Directorate of Scientific Missions of NASA. “Exploring any of these celestial objects will help us unveil the secrets of how they became part of the cosmos.”
Two of these candidates will receive a green light to fly next year. At the moment, each one has received an allocation of three million dollars to develop and refine the projects, which will culminate in a «Concept Study Report», in which it will be key both in the value of the scientific discoveries that can be achieved. as the ease of operations necessary to get them.
Two missions to Venus
One of the proposals is «DAVINCI +» («Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble Gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus»), a mission that contemplates lowering a capsule to the torrid surface of Venus, where temperatures of up to 400ºC are reached , enough to melt the lead. At the same time, an orbiting ship will take high resolution images.
The proposal that competes with “DAVINCI +” is “VERITAS” (“Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy”). This will draw a global topographic map of Venus with a resolution of 250 meters and also look for signs of volcanism and recent tectonic movements.
Two others to the icy moons
If «VERITAS» and «DAVINCI» are designed to visit a world of infernal temperatures and with an exacerbated global warming effect, such as Venus, the other two missions will explore the outer solar system, subjected to freezing temperatures.
The first one is «IVO». Its objective is to explore Io, a moon of Jupiter that is the object with more active volcanoes of the entire solar system. This world, tortured by the intense tidal forces of Jupiter, is formed by sulphurous rocks, so it is really hell. But one very interesting for planetary geologists. The “IVO” mission will study how tidal forces shape planetary bodies and whether there are oceans of magma inside. All this will be very important to understand the formation and evolution of rocky exoplanets and moons with icy oceans of the solar system. However, Jupiter’s gravity is so enormous that “IVO” could only make several overflights of the moon and will not be able to get into its orbit.
The last of the four candidate missions is «Trident», a probe that aims to visit Triton, a moon covered with methane and nitrogen frost in the orbit of Neptune. With a temperature of -235ºC it is one of the coldest places in the solar system and is suspected of being an object of the Kuiper belt captured by the gravity of the gigantic gas planet. In addition, it seems that it has geysers of gaseous nitrogen and dust that reach eight kilometers high and has the potential to house an interior ocean and organic matter on its surface. The “Trident” would only fly over this moon.
These missions of the “Discovery” program have a cost of around 500 million dollars and are less ambitious than the “flag-ship” or “New Frontiers” missions of NASA. So far, about twenty of these have been launched, among which are the “Mars Pathfinder”, the “MESSENGER” or the recent “Insight”, which is now on Mars trying to study the interior of the red planet. In 2025 and 2026, NASA is scheduled to launch the next two missions of the “Discovery” program, the “Lucy” and “Psyche”. The first will explore six Trojan asteroids from the orbit of Jupiter and the second will visit a gigantic metallic asteroid, named “16 Psyche,” which is believed to be the nucleus of an ancient protoplanet. .