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The New Frontiers Program represents a critical step in the advancement of solar system exploration. The missions in the program will tackle specific solar system exploration goals identified as top priorities by consensus of the planetary community as reported in New Frontiers in the Solar System: An Integrated Exploration Strategy in July 2002.


This first decadal study was conducted by the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council at NASA’s request. NASA’s goals were to:

  • examine the"big picture" of solar system exploration today - what it is, how it fits into other scientific endeavors, and why it is a compelling goal;
  • perform a broad survey of the current state of knowledge about our solar system;
  • obtain an inventory of the top-level scientific questions that should provide the focus for solar system exploration in the next decade; and
  • generate a prioritized list of the most promising avenues for flight investigations and supporting ground-based activities.

The high-priority scientific goals identified by the study related to the exploration of Venus, Jupiter, the south polar region of the Earth’s Moon including the Aitken Basin, Pluto and other Kuiper Belt objects, and comets. Thus the New Frontiers Program will select missions that fall into the following categories:

Kuiper Belt

Kuiper Belt Pluto Explorer

An exploration of Pluto and its moon Charon and other Kuiper belt objects will allow scientists to determine their chemcal compositions, physical characteristics, and impact histories.

Jupiter Polar Orbiter

Jupiter Polar Orbiter with Probes

Jupiter’s origin and evolution had a major effect on the development of the rest of the solar system, including the potentially habitable environments of the terrestrial planets. Understanding Jupiter’s internal structure, water abundance, and deep atmospheric composition is a key to unlocking the origin of life and to understanding the dynamics of solar systems in general.

Venus in Situ Explorer

Venus in Situ Explorer

A Venus in Situ exploration mission will help us understand the climate change processes that led to the extreme conditions on Venus today and lay the groundwork for a future Venus sample return mission.

Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin

Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return Mission

The impact that produced the lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin excavated much of the Moon’s far-side crust and possibly the upper mantle. Samples of these ancient deep-seated rocks and possibly of the melt sheet may be accessible on the surface. Laboratory analysis of this material can reveal much about the composition and formation of the moon and the history of the Earth-Moon system.

Comet Surface Sample

Comet Surface Sample Return Mission

Detailed examination of comet surface material will help us understand the distribution of volatiles and organics in the solar system and how organic material is transported throughout the solar system. It will also provide important insight into the structure of potential Earth impactors.



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, small businesses, government laboratories and universities 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.

The New Frontiers Program seeks to contain total mission cost and development time and improve performance through the use of validated new technologies, efficient management, and control of design, development and operations costs while maintaining a strong commitment to flight safety. The cost for the entire mission must be less than $700 million.

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.

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