Four teams have been selected to develop concepts for NASA's Terrestrial Planet Finder (TPF) mission, planned for launch in 2012.

Ball Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, SVS and TRW have been selected by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to lead industrial/academic teams in 19-month studies to identify "feasible and affordable" approaches to looking for possible life-supporting planets around other stars.

Part of NASA's Origins programme, the five-year TPF mission will involve a search of 250 star systems up to 50 light years away. Several 3.5m (11ft) space telescopes will be flown in a precise array. A technique called nulling interferometry will be used to cancel the star's glare so a planet can be seen and scanned.

JPL is looking for an innovative approach. During the initial eight-month phase of the study, the teams will "brainstorm" options for detecting and characterising planets. In December, the two best architectures from each team will be selected for further study during the 11-month second phase.

Source: Flight International