NASA has postponed the next competition for the New Frontiers planetary exploration program for two years. This step may change the list of eligible missions.
On May 12, NASA announced that it was postponing the publication of competition conditions for the fifth mission in the New Frontiers program. The agency plans to publish the draft terms in October 2021 and the final version in October 2022. Currently, preliminary and final versions of the terms will be available in October 2023 and 2024, respectively. NASA will accept applications from participants within 90 days of posting the final terms.
“Although the start of the competition was scheduled for 2022, the Planetary Science Division is currently facing some delays. They are caused by being active in other projects and having difficulties with COVID. “- said the agency.
In another statement, NASA argues that the delay in the start of the competition influenced the decision to postpone the launch of the Dragonfly mission – the fourth in the New Frontiers program – from 2026 to 2027, which is a mission unrelated to various factors. The agency says the competition was redesigned to avoid the budget burden of working on two New Frontiers missions at the same time. The agency also said that new plans will allow for the selection of winners at the same time as the Dragonfly launch.
However, the two-year delay has serious implications, as the proposed themes and proposals for future launches under New Frontiers are selected based on the Planetary Science Decadal Survey. (Publication report describing the major issues and tasks of planetarium for the next 10 years – approx. Translation.)
NASA has not yet decided on a list of topics for the New Frontiers 5. Announced among the possible: a return of the comet’s surface, a mission to Jupiter’s moon Io, a return of samples from the South Pole – the Aitken lunar basin, a network of physics instruments on its surface, a probe launch to Saturn, a mission to Venus’s orbiting Venus. In February, NASA announced that the list of possible subjects would depend on a number of factors – for example, the results of a competition for the Discovery program, which would end this summer by selecting two winners.
Why does postponing the competition significantly affect the list of possible topics? The new table-based Planetary Science Decadal Survey will be published in the spring of 2022. From NASA statement to scientists: “The new date for the publication of the terms of the competition means that the Fifth New Frontiers mission will take place within the scope of the next Planetary Science Decadal Survey Report”; The agency “is going to focus on the results of the report, which is expected in early 2022, in the context of competition for the New Frontiers 5”.
However, this publication is not the only factor determining the list of possible mission topics. Prior to the competition for the fourth mission, NASA added a world-ocean theme in response to a congressional order for an ocean-world exploration program that included Jupiter’s moon Europa, Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and Titan. This helped the drone defeat the dragonfly missions flying in Titan’s atmosphere.
Read more about current New Frontiers missions. On the NASA website.