NASA has selected three proposals as candidates for detailed study on the next Discovery mission. One of the proposals will be selected for development at the end of this year. NASA aims for a launch in 2005-06 within a $299 million budget as part of its low-cost and rapid-development Discovery programme.

The three projects, which were selected from 26 proposals submitted to NASA in August, have each been awarded $450,000 to conduct four-month implementation-feasibility studies.

The proposals include the $286 million Kepler space telescope, which is intended to monitor 100,000 stars during a four year mission to detect planets between the sizes of the Earth and Jupiter.

The Interior Structure and Internal Dynamical Evolution of Jupiter (INSIDE Jupiter) mission will orbit the giant planet to observe and measure its internal processes, at a cost of $296 million.

The $271 million Dawn mission aims to orbit the asteroids Vesta and Ceres, two of the largest in the solar system, to probe the early solar system and determine properties of the asteroids.

Meanwhile, NASA is funding US participation in the France-led Netlander mission. This is scheduled for launch in 2007 to study the internal structure of Mars. NASA will contribute seismology, meteorology and geodesy experiments at a cost of $35 million. The project involves four small landers which will collect data from the surface of Mars, while an orbiting mother ship will transmit the data to Earth.

• NASA Discovery programme spacecraft Stardust was due to make an Earth fly-by on 15 January to provide it with a sling-shot gravity-assist boost towards the comet Wild 2, where it will collect samples of cometary material for return to Earth.

Source: Flight International