NASA's Discovery Program

The primary goal of NASA's Discovery program is to conduct a series of frequent, highly focused, cost-effective missions to answer critical questions in solar system science. Formally started in NASA's FY 1994 budget, the Discovery program features small planetary exploration spacecraft with focused science goals that can be built in 36 months or less, for less than $190 million in development costs and a total mission cost of less than $299 million.

The program encourages the use of new technologies, transfer of these technologies to the private sector, increased participation of small and disadvantaged businesses, the pursuit of innovative ways of doing business, and support of the nation's educational initiatives. The objective is to perform high-quality scientific investigations which will assure continuity in the U.S. solar system exploration program and enhance general public awareness of, and appreciation for, solar system exploration.

Eleven missions have been selected for the Discovery program so far:

GRAIL - Lunar gravity orbiters (to be launched 8 September 2011)
Kepler - Exoplanet observation mission (launched 7 March 2009)
Dawn - Asteroid Vesta and Ceres orbiter (launched 27 September 2007)
Deep Impact - Mission to Comet Tempel 1 (launched 12 January 2005)
MESSENGER - Mission to orbit Mercury (launched 3 August 2004)
CONTOUR - Mission to fly by three comet nuclei (launched 3 July 2002 - failed)
Genesis - Solar wind sample return mission (launched 8 August 2001)
Stardust - Comet P/Wild 2 coma sample return (launched 7 February 1999)
Lunar Prospector - Lunar orbiter (launched 7 January 1998)
Mars Pathfinder - Mars surface lander and rover (launched 4 December 1996)
Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) - Asteroid 433 Eros Orbiter (launched 17 February 1996)

Three missions are under consideration to become the next Discovery mission:
The Geophysical Monitoring Station (GEMS) - Mars lander
The Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) - Titan ocean lander
The Comet Hopper (CHopper) - Comet rendezvous and lander

Three technology development proposals are currently under consideration:
Primitive Material Explorer (PriME) - Comet mass spectrometer
Whipple - Blind occultation technique test
NEOCam - Near Earth Object telescope development

For more information on the above 6 projects see the Discovery Press Release

Discovery Missions of Opportunity

EPOXI - Deep Impact extended mission
Stardust-NExT - Stardust extended mission
Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) - Chandrayaan 1 imaging spectrometer
ASPERA-3 - Mars Express ion, electron , and neutral atom analyzer
Strofio - BepiColombo Mercury mass spectrometer

More Information on the Discovery Program and Missions

NASA selects investigations for future key planetary mission - Press Release (May 2011)
New NASA Mission to Reveal Moon's Internal Structure and Evolution - Press Release (December 2007)
Three new concept studies and three missions of opportunity - Press Release (October 2006)
Two new missions, Dawn and Kepler, selected - Press Release (December 2001)
Three new missions under consideration - Press Release (January 2001)
Selection of MESSENGER and Deep Impact - Press Release (July 1999)
Five missions selected for further study - Press Release (November 1998)
Selection of CONTOUR and Genesis - Press Release (October 1997)
Lunar Prospector Selection - Press Release (February 1995)
Stardust Selection - Press Release (November 1995)
More information on the five 1997 Discovery candidates - Press Release (April 1997)
Stardust, Suess-Urey, and Venus Multi-Probe - The 3 final candidates for the 4th Discovery mission

Discovery Program Home Page
Discovery Program Acquisition

Other Past, Current, and Future Planetary Missions
NSSDCA Planetary Science Home Page

Dr. David R. Williams,
NSSDCA, Mail Code 690.1
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, MD 20771

NASA Official: Dr. David R. Williams,
Last Updated: 10 May 2011, DRW