New Frontiers Program
First Decadal Study
The first study to identify high priority goals, "New Frontiers in the Solar System: An Integrated Exploration Strategy" published in 2003, formed the basis for NASA's New Frontiers Program of planetary science missions. The study was conducted by the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council at NASA's request. It canvased planetary science activities, listed the key science questions, and recommended specific spacecraft missions for the period 2003-2013.
The study identified four cross-cutting themes that form the basis for an integrated exploration strategy:
Twelve key scientific questions emerged from these themes, and five high priority scientific goals were identified, relating to the exploration of Pluto and other Kuiper Belt Objects, Jupiter, Venus, the south polar region of the Earth’s Moon, and a comet sample return. These priorities became the criteria for missions in the New Frontiers Program.
Second Decadal Study
In 2008, NASA requested that a new study be initiated in response to the successful implementation of two of the recommended missions, along with important discoveries made by ground- and space-based research activities. The National Research Council appointed a 16-member committee steering group and 54 experts who served on five topical panels. After extensive efforts, the panels identified 24 priority missions capable of addressing key scientific questions. These mission concepts were subjected to detailed technical studies and evaluation of cost and technical realism.
A second study was completed in 2011, Vision and Voyages for Planetary Science in the Decade 2013-2022. Complete information on the Planetary Science Decadal Survey is available, including panel members and meetings, presentations, and NASA's response.
To help organize the current state of knowledge, the committee identified three crosscutting themes and ten important questions that cover major areas of planetary science research:
The recommendations for the New Frontiers Program include seven missions that address high priority and technically complex science goals. The committee recommended changing the New Frontiers cost cap to $1.0 billion FY'15, excluding launch vehicle costs.
The seven candidate missions include the three previously identified but not selected plus four new ones:
NASA's Science Goals
The Solar System Exploration Roadmap developed in 2006 for NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) lays out both a scientific rationale and a long–term plan for the exploration of the solar system. The scientific foundation of the Roadmap is a set of five fundamental questions:
A unifying theme for the exploration of our solar system is habitability — the ability of worlds to support life. We seek to know whether life is or was present elsewhere in our planetary backyard, how we and our planet came to be, and what are the future prospects for terrestrial life on and off the Earth. The Roadmap describes a series of small (Discovery), medium (New Frontiers), and large (flagship) class missions to address the key science questions.
Proposing a Mission
Announcements Of Opportunity
New Frontiers investigation proposals are solicited via the Announcement of Opportunity (AO) process. Each mission proposal is led by a principal investigator (PI) who is typically affiliated with a university or research institution. The PI selects team members from industry, government laboratories, universities and small businesses to develop the scientific objectives and instrument payload. The team brings together the skills and expertise needed to carry out a mission from concept development through data analysis. The PI is responsible for the overall success of the project by assuring that cost, schedule and performance objectives are met.
NASA is committed to the principles of open competition and merit review as a key to excellence. Mission proposals in response to the AO are chosen through an extensive competitive peer review process. Proposals require careful tradeoffs between science and cost to produce investigations with the highest possible science value for the price.
NASA Announcements of Opportunity can be found on the NASA Solicitation and Proposal Integrated Review and Evaluation System, or NSPIRES, website under "Solicitations." NSPIRES also lists proposals selected to conduct NASA research.
The New Frontiers Program Acquisition website includes announcements, lessons learned, and a library of reference documents needed to write a New Frontiers mission proposal.
The Science Office for Mission Assessments (SOMA) at NASA Langley Research Center supports the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) at NASA Headquarters in the acquisition of Earth and space science missions and instruments. SOMA supports the development of AO solicitations and the Technical, Management, and Cost (TMC) evaluations of proposals received in response to the AO solicitations and Phase A concept studies. In addition, the SOMA leads special studies, independent assessments, and reviews for SMD.
Education And Public Outreach
Among NASA's strategic goals is to communicate the results of its efforts to the American public and to enhance the science and technical education of the next generation of Americans. All selected investigations are required to implement a core Education and Public Outreach (E/PO) program consistent with the SMD program strategy to actively engage students and the public in the excitement of space exploration through a variety of venues.
Proposals may also include a Student Collaboration (SC) that could be development of an instrument; an investigation of scientific questions; analysis and display of data; development of supporting hardware or software; or other aspects of the investigation.
Go to "NASA Science - For Researchers" for information on preparing the E/PO element of a mission proposal.
The Program Office
The Discovery and New Frontiers Program Office was formed in August 2004, when the NASA Science Mission Directorate combined two existing solar system exploration program offices into one. The office is part of the Flight Programs & Partnership Office at the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The main goal of the Program Office is to enhance the probability of mission success through technical expertise and independent oversight during all phases of the mission life cycle. A high-powered, effective team examines risks and mitigation plans and conducts technical assessments and reviews when necessary. The program manager is Allen Bacskay.
The small-class Discovery missions and the medium-class New Frontiers missions complement NASA's flagship missions to meet the many scientific and technical challenges of deep space exploration. The Discovery and New Frontiers missions include fly bys, orbiters, landers, impactors, and sample returns to assure optimum scientific value. The discoveries produced by these groundbreaking missions not only dramatically advance our understanding of the solar system, but also help NASA to further refine its exploration strategy.
The Program Office is responsible for ensuring that the missions adhere to committed cost, schedule, performance, reliability, safety, and education and public outreach requirements. This is done consistent with top-level policies, strategies, requirements, and funding established by NASA Headquarters Science Mission Directorate.
The baseline New Frontiers Program Plan defines the management of the New Frontiers Program for NASA. The entire Program Library can be found on the New Frontiers Program Acquisitions website.