NASA has selected four proposals for further study as candidates for the 2007 Mars Scout mission that will be a trailblazer for a series of small missions planned as precursors to a potential Mars sample return flight in 2012 at the earliest. Each of the proposals to study potential biological activity on Mars will receive $500,000 for a six-month implementation feasibility study.

Arizona State University's Sample Collection for Investigation of Mars is a proposal to collect atmospheric dust and gas using aerogel and bring the samples back using a free-return trajectory. NASA Langley Research Center's Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Survey would provide in-situ measurements of near-surface atmospheric chemistry.

The University of Arizona is proposing the Phoenix, a "hovering" craft to study volatiles and organic molecules at various high-latitude sites. The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mars Volcanic Emission and Life Scout would conduct a global survey of the atmosphere's photochemistry. NASA plans to select one proposal for the $325 million mission in August, for launch in 2007.

NASA has awarded Boeing Launch Services a potential $1.2 billion extension to its contract to provide Delta II launches for medium-class science spacecraft. The con- tract covers 12 launches with seven options between 2006 and 2009.

Launch of a Delta II from Canaveral carrying NASA's Space Infrared Telescope Facility has been delayed from January 2003 to at least 15 April due to concerns over a valve on the spacecraft.

Source: Flight International