NASA considering missions to comet and Saturn's Moon Titan

By Brooks Hays  |  Dec. 20, 2017 at 3:39 PM
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Dec. 20 (UPI) -- NASA is considering possible missions a comet and Titan, Saturn's largest moon. The space agency selected the two concept finalists on Wednesday.

The selected missions were two of 12 proposals submitted as part NASA's New Frontiers program.

"This is a giant leap forward in developing our next bold mission of science discovery," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a news release. "These are tantalizing investigations that seek to answer some of the biggest questions in our solar system today."

The Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return mission, or CAESAR concept, proposes a NASA-funded visit to 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the comet visited by the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft and Philae lander.

The Dragonfly missions suggests NASA send a drone-like spacecraft to Titan to sample and analyze the moon's chemical composition at dozens of test sites. Several studies have suggested Titan's seas and atmosphere contain many of ingredients necessary for life.

The two missions will receive funding to further develop their concepts through 2018. NASA will select to pursue one of the two missions in 2019.

NASA also announced funding for a pair of technology concepts. Researchers working on the Enceladus Life Signatures and Habitability project are looking for cost-effective ways to better protect spacecrafts from biochemical contamination, as well as develop improve life-detection instruments.

The Venus In situ Composition Investigations project involves the development of a laser-based instrument capable of analyzing soil and rock samples under the harsh conditions found on the surface of Venus.

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