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vjkane
NASA recently posted its draft Announcement of Opportunity for its next Discovery competition that will select two missions, one to fly in the mid-2020s and the other in the late 2020s. I am starting to see in scientific conferences missions likely to be proposed (several of which were also proposed but not selected for the last competition that selected the Lucy and Psyche asteroid missions). NASA expects to select up to five finalists for further definition with the final selections from this candidate list.

Mission proposals can target any solar system study, except those that would study the sun or Earth, that, “Ascertain the content, origin, and evolution of the solar system and the potential for life elsewhere.”

Mission costs for the spacecraft, instruments, flight software, and ground systems (the Principal Investigator costs) are capped at $500 million in FY2019 dollars. NASA provides management, the launch, and covers mission operations in addition to the PI costs. These other costs can be substantial. The projected full cost of the Lucy mission is $914-984 million and the Psyche mission is $907-957 million when the PI costs were capped at $450 million in FY2015 dollars.

The PI budget can be adjusted upward by up to $20 million by adding a technology demonstration (see below) or up or down by $10-20M by selecting a less capable or a more capable launch vehicle than the baseline. Instruments, up to approximately one-third of the payload, can be contributed by foreign space agencies or governments outside of the PI cost cap.

The target schedule for the selection and launches of the Discovery missions is:

AO Release Date (target)................February 28, 2019
Proposals due.................................May 31, 2019
Selection of up to 5 finalists.............December 20, 2019
Selection of up to 2 final missions....March 31, 2021
1st launch period............................July 1, 2025, through Dec. 31, 2026
2nd launch period...........................July 1, 2028, through Dec. 31, 2029

NASA will select the winning proposals based on three criteria:

• Scientific merit of the proposed investigation (40%)
• Scientific implementation merit and feasibility of the proposed investigation (30%)
• Technical, management, and cost feasibility of the proposed mission implementation (30%)

Proposed missions can use the plutonium-238 MMRTG power systems. However, including these will cost the PI budget $54 million for the first MMRTG and an additional $15 million for the second.

In what I believe is a new opportunity for Discovery proposals, PI’s can propose (or NASA may add), “An Enhancing Technology Demonstration Opportunity (TDO) consists of either PI-team-developed or NASA-developed technologies that may have a TRL of less than 6 [approaching but not yet ready for flight] when proposed, is not required to achieve the Baseline or the Threshold Science Mission, but could enhance the scientific return or reduce cost and complexity of the proposed mission and/or future missions. An Enhancing TDO may be an instrument, investigation, new technology, hardware, or software demonstrated on either the flight system.”

Missions are also expected to, “provide active research opportunities for current or aspiring graduate
or undergraduate students, including advanced high schoolers. SCs may involve students in multiple aspects of a mission spanning scientific formulation; mission planning; systems engineering; design and development of flight hardware; qualification, test and integration; and mission operations and data analysis.”
PhilipTerryGraham
The finalists for Discovery mission 15 (and 16?) have been announced! VERITAS returns for a second shot, after being a finalist in the last Discovery program competition, while DAVINCI also returns in an updated form in DAVINCI+. After being a perennial candidate for the Discovery and New Frontiers programs for over a decade, Io Volcano Observer has finally been selected as a finalist for the first time! Trident, a new flyby mission to Triton, has also been selected! I'm not sure when the winner(s) will be announced, though.
PhilipTerryGraham
As for my opinion, I'd very much endorse VERITAS and Io Volcano Observer (IVO). VERITAS was one of my two picks last time around, and I'm sticking. It'd be very much a beautiful and scientifically-rich moment in space exploration to see both America and Europe return to Venus in a big way together, with EnVision currently a finalist for the ESA Science Programme's M5 mission. Even in the likely event that it doesn't happen, it'll be in the best interest of planetary and climate scientists for at least one of these probes to pick up the work Magellan and Venus Express left off. IVO would be a novel choice, as America and Europe are preparing to set out together on voyages to the icy worlds of Jupiter, in-situ science at Io which would be otherwise left out, would easily be taken up by IVO's multiple-flyby mission. A better understanding of how Io's intense geological activity works at an unprecedented level of detail would be greatly informative to our understanding of a geological process that is arguably less well understood than most; volcanic/cryovolcanic activity on celestial bodies other than Earth.
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