NASA Solicits Proposals For Future Robotic Solar System Exploration Mission

Artist’s concept of the New Horizons spacecraft with Pluto and its largest moon, Charon, in July of 2015. Image Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

December 10, 2016 – NASA is seeking proposals for its next New Frontiers mission—a robotic planetary mission of discovery that would launch in the mid-2020s.

The agency on Friday released an announcement of opportunity for what will be the fourth mission in the New Frontiers portfolio. Its predecessors are the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, the Juno mission to Jupiter, and OSIRIS-REx, NASA’s first asteroid sample return mission.

“New Frontiers is about highly-focused missions — each with a high science payoff — that push the frontiers of exploration and advance our understanding of the solar system,” said Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “With these missions we are seeking to answer some of the most pressing questions in space science today.”

The New Frontiers Program conducts principal investigator (PI)-led space science investigations in SMD’s planetary program under a development cost cap of approximately $1 billion. The principal investigator is responsible for the scientific inquiry and development of the spacecraft. Investigations may propose the use of Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators and/or Radioisotope Heater Units.

Investigations are limited to six mission themes based on the National Research Council’s planetary decadal survey, Visions and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022:

  • Comet Surface Sample Return
  • Lunar South Pole Aitken Basin Sample Return
  • Ocean Worlds (Titan and/or Enceladus)
  • Saturn Probe
  • Trojan Asteroid Tour and Rendezvous
  • Venus In Situ Explorer
  • New Frontiers Program investigations must address NASA’s planetary science objectives as described in the 2014 NASA Strategic Plan and the 2014 NASA Science Plan.

    The deadline for proposals is April 28, 2017. The finalists will be announced in the fall of 2017, with Phase A concept study reports due in December of 2018. At the conclusion of Phase A concept studies, it is planned that one New Frontiers investigation will be selected to continue into subsequent mission phases. Mission proposals are selected following an extensive competitive peer review process.

    “The decadal survey has provided us with an excellent roadmap with goals for future exploration,” said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division in Washington. “I couldn’t be more excited to set the wheels in motion for our next mission.”

    Further details will be posted on the New Frontiers Program Acquisition Page at: