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NASA To Reveal Finalists For A Space Mission

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Finalists of the fourth New Frontiers competition will be announced by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) via a teleconference Dec. 20 at 2 p.m. EST.

Out of such short-listed concepts, only one winner is to be selected. The chosen team's proposal will then be built out by the agency for a space mission to explore the solar system. Robots are conducting the mission with no crew on board. Launching of the winning vessel is slated in the middle of 2020 but the location for investigation remains unannounced.

Possible Destinations For Fourth New Frontiers Mission Includes Top Exploration Goals

However, the six themes assigned to participating teams give a preview of where the future spacecraft could be sent. Based on a press release by NASA, proposals were asked for six themes, which include obtaining a sample from an undetermined comet's surface and the moon's South Pole-Aitken Basin; probing the planet Saturn; touring the micro planet or moon Trojan and the asteroid Rendezvous; performing experiments on Venus; and exploring the Ocean Worlds, comprised by Titan and Enceladus.

The themes were chosen by the agency based on expert advice from the anatomical community. Goals included in the list have been identified to be of high priority.

Present in the teleconference that will be aired over NASA's official website are Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator at the NASA Science Mission Directorate; Jim Green, director at the NASA Headquarters' Planetary Science Division; Curt Niebur, program scientist of the New Frontiers initiative at NASA Headquarters; and participants of the competition.

The finalists will be granted $4 million each to create models of their ideas. A total of 12 proposals were submitted in May 2017.

New Frontiers Missions Allow Scientific Investigations

The program, which launched its first mission in 2006, includes medium-scale missions operating under a limited budget. Under the guidance of a lead investigator, they are sent to various locations across the solar system.

Currently, there are three New Frontiers Mission in outer space. The latest one to take off is the OSIRIS, which left Earth in September 2016 to study the asteroid Bennu. It is expected to make a landing in 2018 and conduct a study until 2021. Its return has been scheduled for 2023.

Other missions under the initiative are New Horizons, which left Earth in 2006 and landed in Pluto by 2015; and Juno, which took off 2011 and reached Jupiter's orbit by 2016.

A recent investigation conducted by NASA using the Kepler space telescope led to the discovery of an eighth planet orbiting the star Kepler-90. The agency is also expected to launch a lunar mission as part of President Donald Trump's commitment to maintaining America's leading status in space exploration. 

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