Ok, peeps, the NASA Explorer AO outcomes are out, and you know what they are: so, who lost, and more importantly, who won?
PS: and the winners are...
Five Explorer Mission proposals were selected from 22 submitted in February. Each team will receive $1 million to conduct an 11-month mission concept study. Mission costs are capped at $200 million each, excluding the launch vehicle.
In addition, one Explorer Mission proposal was selected for technology development and will receive $600,000.
Five Mission of Opportunity proposals were selected from 20 submissions. Each will receive $250,000 to conduct an 11-month implementation concept study. Mission costs are capped at $55 million each.
The selected Explorer Mission proposals are:
- FINESSE - Fast INfrared Exoplanet Spectroscopy Survey Explorer Mark Swain, PI, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California -- This proposal would use a space telescope to survey more than 200 planets around other stars. This would be the first mission dedicated to finding out what comprises exoplanet atmospheres, what conditions or processes are responsible for their composition, and how our solar system fits into the larger family of planets.
- TESS -Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite George Ricker, PI, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass. -- Using an array of telescopes, TESS would perform an all-sky survey to discover transiting exoplanets, ranging from Earth-sized to gas giants, in orbit around the nearest and brightest stars in the sky. The mission's primary goal would be to identify terrestrial planets in the habitable zones of nearby stars.
- ASTRE - Atmosphere-Space Transition Region Explorer (ASTRE) Robert Pfaff Jr., PI, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. -- The mission would study the interaction between the Earth's atmosphere and the ionized gases of space. By flying excursions deep into the Earth's upper atmosphere, its measurements would improve satellite drag models and show how space-induced currents in electric power grids originate and evolve with time.
- ICON - Ionospheric Connection Explorer Thomas Immel, Principal Investigator (PI), University of California, Berkeley -- The mission would fly instruments to understand the extreme variability in our Earth's ionosphere, which can interfere with communications and geopositioning signals.
- OHMIC - Observatory for Heteroscale Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Coupling James Burch, PI, Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio, Texas -- The mission would use a pair of spacecraft flying in formation to study the processes that provide energy to power space weather storms. These storms create auroras and other electromagnetic activity that can impact orbiting spacecraft operations.
So both the Astrophysics Explorer concepts for Phase A are Exoplanets.
Three Sun-Earth Connection ionospheric missions, presumably competing for one slot.
The selected Explorer Mission of Opportunity proposals are:
- GOLD -Global-scale Observations of the Limb and Disk Richard Eastes, PI, University of Central Florida, Orlando -- This would involve an imaging instrument that would fly on a commercial communications satellite in geostationary orbit to image the Earth's thermosphere and ionosphere.
- NICER -Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer Keith Gendreau, PI, Goddard -- This mission would place an X ray timing instrument on the International Space Station (ISS) to explore the exotic states of matter within neutron stars and reveal their interior and surface compositions.
- CPI -Coronal Physics Investigator John Kohl, PI, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Cambridge, Mass. -- A solar telescope would be mounted on the ISS to investigate the processes that produce the sun's fast and slow solar wind.
- GUSSTO-Gal/Xgal U/LDB Spectroscopic/Stratospheric THz Observatory Christopher Walker, PI, University of Arizona, Tucson -- This mission would launch a high altitude balloon with a one-meter telescope to provide a comprehensive understanding of the inner workings of our Milky Way galaxy and one of our galaxy's companion galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud.
- IMSA-Ion Mass Spectrum Analyzer for SCOPE, Lynn Kistler PI, University of New Hampshire, Durham -- This partner mission of opportunity would provide a composition instrument to the Japanese cross-Scale Coupling in the Plasma universE (SCOPE) mission. SCOPE will study fundamental space plasma processes including particle acceleration, magnetic reconnection, and plasma turbulence.
The proposal selected for technology development funding is:
Interesting mix. Two ISS mounted concepts.
Helio, X-ray timing, plasma, upper atmosphere and a THz balloon project.
EXCEDE -The Exoplanetary Circumstellar Environments and Disk Explorer Glenn Schneider, PI, University of Arizona, Tucson -- The technology development effort will enable studies of the formation, evolution, and architectures of exoplanetary systems through direct imaging.
JANUS (GRB IR followup mission) didn't make the cut
LOBSTER (GRB IR followup mission) didn't make the cut
JEM-EUSO (ISS, cosmic ray experiment) didn't make the cut
Synergy (UV spectroscopic survey) didn't make the cut
They're all listed here:
Lots of exoplanets and earth/solar/space plasma and atmospheres. GUSSTO and NICER seem to be the only ones that don't fit those guidelines.
TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) is in.
WHIMEX (X-ray Spectroscopy of ISM) didn't make the cut
NASA has released the complete winners list.
Three Explorers for Heliophysics (ASTRE, ICON, OHMIC) and two for Astrophysics (FINESSE, TESS).
Under Missions of Opportunity, also three for Heliophysics (CPI, GOLD, IMSA) and two for Astrophysics (GUSSTO, NICER).
One technology development proposal in Astrophysics (EXCEDE).
The full list of the selected ones:
Lots of ionosphere/space physics - is that the usual ratio?
TESS is a really nice mission - very glad to see it made the cut. Finds transits at nearly Kepler-like sensitivity but around nice bright nearby stars that are then well suited to followup. (e.g. with your shiny new IR doppler spectrograph to get really good masses of rocky planets, or with JWST to (maybe) characterize their atmospheres in transit or eclipse.) Probably the most important thing one can do in space for exoplanet studies this decade.
I agree that TESS is a really nice, affordable mission. Wonder if its selection will affect PLATO's chances in Europe? Is PLATO somewhat further along?
Interesting choices. Wonder why it's worth doing TESS, a finder, when you could go directly to atmospheric characterization with FINESSE
Thomas: Rocky planets found by Kepler are almost all orbiting stars too faint to allow planet-atmosphere characterization with FINESSE (or even JWST) - just not enough photons to detect the weak atmosphere signal in a transit. TESS will find similar planets but around much brighter stars - it gets a large number of stars by scanning a much wider area of the sky (with much smaller telescopes). Even with TESS and JWST the odds of a true HZ earth-radius planet being charcterizable are slim, but there is a chance for planets orbiting M stars.
Thanks Bruce. Yes, I understand why Kepler's fields are out. I guess there's also the assumption that terrestrial-size planets are the most interesting, but I'd imagine atmospheres of super-Earths and hot jupiters and all the other planet family types would be just as compelling, but in different ways. Aren't ground-based observatories (like the one Steinn posted about just recently (the Habitable Zone Planet Finder? or MEarth?) making quite a bit of progress on identifying candidates from the ground?