The U.S space agency is looking at Venus, near-Earth objects (NEOs) and asteroids as potential targets for its next set of robotic space exploration missions, which will launch as early as 2020.

NASA has shortlisted five projects for the Discovery program, which funds low-cost missions to destinations across the solar system. Of the five selected, two would visit Venus while asteroids and NEOs would be the focus of the three others.

"The selected investigations have the potential to reveal much about the formation of our solar system and its dynamic processes," said John Grunsfeld, from NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

"Dynamic and exciting missions like these hold promise to unravel the mysteries of our solar system and inspire future generations of explorers. It's an incredible time for science, and NASA is leading the way."

One of the two project concepts that would focus on the brightest planet in the solar system will investigate the chemical composition of Venus' atmosphere. The Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry and Imaging (DAVINCI) will also attempt to find out if there are active volcanoes on this extraterrestrial world.

The Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography and Spectroscopy mission (VERITAS), on the other hand, intends to capture surface images and come up with high-resolution maps of the planet.

The Lucy mission would conduct the first reconnaissance of the Jupiter Trojan asteroids, which are believed to hold important clues that could provide details on the history of the solar system.

 "This stuff has been in the deep freeze," said Lucy co-investigator Daniel Britt. "You can see from the surface a record of solar system history, building blocks of planets and precursors to life."

The Psyche mission will study Psyche, a metallic asteroid. Scientists think that this alien world is likely a remnant of a violent clash with an object that stripped off the outer layer of a protoplanet.

Near Earth Object Camera (NEOCam) aims to discover ten times more NEOs than all that have so far been found and characterize them.

Each of the shortlisted teams would receive $3 million to conduct further studies. The U.S. space agency hopes to announce the finalist by September next year.

The Discovery Program was created in 1992 and has so far funded and developed 12 missions, which include MESSENGER, Deep Impact, Stardust, Dawn, Genesis and GRAIL.

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