NASA HAS SELECTED the Lunar Prospector as the third low-cost Solar System exploration mission in the Administration's Discovery programme.

To be launched in June 1997, the $59 million, 1.3m-diameter, hatbox-shaped craft will go into orbit around the Moon. It will be used to map its chemical composition and magnetic and gravity fields in greater detail than has yet been achieved. Lockheed will build the Lunar Prospector and provide the launch on one of its own vehicles.

The new mission will follow the first two Discovery projects - the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous and Mars Pathfinder, which will be launched aboard - McDonnell Douglas Delta 2 boosters, in 1996 (Flight International, 28 September-4 October, 1994).

NASA has also selected for further study three other Discovery missions from a list of 28 candidate projects. A decision will be taken in late 1995 to proceed with the development of one of the schemes.

The missions under study are the Stardust, the Venus Multiprobe and the Suess-Urey. The Stardust would be flown through the coma of the active comet, P/Wild 2, taking images and returning a sample of its commentary dust to the Earth.

The Venus mission would involve the landing of 16 small probes in the thick Venusian atmosphere, while the Suess-Urey mission would be used in an attempt to collect solar-particle matter streaming from the Sun and return it to the Earth.

Source: Flight International