NASA's New Frontiers program is a series of medium-cost (not to exceed US$700 million), highly focused scientific space missions. This program was spawned off the highly successful Discovery Program.

The New Frontiers Program represents a challenging new way for NASA to accomplish important scientific exploration of the Solar System. It provides an opportunity to execute science investigations of medium scope at the forefront of planetary science, as well as to generate opportunities to enhance education and engage the public in the excitement of science discoveries.

NASA invites both the U.S. and international science communities to submit proposals for New Frontiers Mission investigations.

Mission in progress

New Horizons, a mission to Pluto, was launched in January 19, 2006, and is on its way to the planet. After a Jupiter gravity assist in February 2007 the craft will continue to flyby Pluto in July 2015 and one or two Kuiper Belt objects between 2015 and 2020.

Forthcoming mission


Juno is scheduled to be launched in June 2010 for Jupiter. The craft will attain a polar orbit in order to study the planet's magnetic field.
NASA’s Galileo mission to Jupiter provided extensive knowledge about its upper atmosphere. However, further study of Jupiter is crucial not only to the understanding of its origin and nature of the solar system, but also of giant extrasolar planets in general. This proposal submits for spacecraft investigations that can achieve the majority of the following objectives for Jupiter:
  • Understand Jupiter’s gross dynamical and structural properties through determination of the mass and size of Jupiter’s core, its gravitational and magnetic fields, and internal convection;
  • Measure the Jovian atmospheric composition, particularly, the condensable-gas abundances (H2O, NH3, CH4 and H2S), the Jovian atmospheric temperature profile, wind velocity profile, and cloud opacity to greater depths than achieved by the Galileo entry probe with a goal of 100 bar at multiple latitudes; and
  • Investigate and characterize the three dimensional structure of Jupiter’s polar magnetosphere.

Proposed missions

Venus In Situ Explorer:

The Venus In Situ Explorer, scheduled for launch in 2013, will study the composition and surface properties of Venus. The Explorer will acquire and characterize a core sample from the surface, and will also measure the elements and mineralogy of surface materials.
Although the exploration of the surface and lower atmosphere of Venus provides a major technical challenge, the scientific rewards are major. Venus is Earth’s sister planet, yet its tectonics, volcanism, surface-atmospheric processes, atmospheric dynamics, and chemistry are all remarkably different from those on Earth, which has resulted in remarkably different end states for its surface crust and atmosphere. While returning physical samples of its surface and/or atmosphere may not be possible within the New Frontiers cost cap, innovative approaches might achieve the majority of the following objectives:
  • Understand the physics and chemistry of Venus’ atmosphere through measurement of its composition, especially the abundances of its trace gases, light stable isotopes, and noble gas isotopes;
  • Understand the physics and chemistry of Venus’ crust through analysis of near-IR descent images from below the clouds to the surface and through measurements of elemental abundances and mineralogy from a surface sample;
  • Understand the properties of Venus’ atmosphere down to the surface through meteorological measurements and improve our understanding of Venus’ zonal cloud-level winds through temporal measurements over at least two Earth days; and
  • Understand the weathering environment of the crust of Venus in the context of the dynamics of the atmosphere of Venus and the composition and texture of its surface materials.

Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return:

The Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return will return samples of the early Moon's deep crust. (2013 at the earliest.)
The surface of the South Pole-Aitken basin, located on the Moon’s far side southern polar region, is likely to contain some fraction of the mineralogy of the Moon’s lower crust. Samples of these ancient materials that are not biased by nearside impact basin formation are highly desirable to further understand the history of Earth’s Moon. Therefore, a mission to return a sufficient sample of material from the heretofore-unsampled South Pole-Aitken basin terrain, including useful samples from the deep crust of the early Moon, should accomplish (following chemical, isotopic, and petrologic analysis of returned materials as well as radiometric age dating on Earth) the majority of following science objectives:
  • Elucidate the nature of the Moon’s lower crust and mantle by direct measurements of its composition and of sample ages;
  • Determine the chronology of basin-forming impacts and constrain the period of late, heavy bombardment in the inner solar system, and thus, address fundamental questions of inner solar system impact processes and chronology;
  • Characterize a large lunar impact basin through "ground truth" validation of global, regional, and local remotely sensed data of the sampled site;
  • Elucidate the sources of thorium and other heat-producing elements in order to understand lunar differentiation and thermal evolution; and
  • Determine ages and compositions of far-side basalts to determine how mantle source regions on the far side of the Moon differ from regions sampled by Apollo and Luna basalts.

Comet Surface Sample Return:

A Comet Surface Sample Return mission (2013 at the earliest): Detailed study of comets promises the possibility of understanding the physical condition and constituents of the still-forming solar system, including the early history of water and the biogenic elements and the compounds containing them. Therefore, a mission that will sample and return the dust and organics from at least one if not several locations on the surface of a comet nucleus, including one in the vicinity of an active vent, is of prime interest in order to achieve the majority of the following science objectives:
  • Understand the structure and composition of a comet through measurement of the chemical complexity of the sampled material, grain micro texture and its cohesive forces, age and composition of ices and organic and silicate grains;
  • Understand the real time dynamics and evolution of a comet’s surface under the influence of sunlight by study of the diurnal conditions of its atmosphere and surface; and
  • Investigate a comet’s overall physical structure in order to assess its internal heterogeneity.

Exclusion of Mars

New Frontiers science objectives exclude the study of Mars, for which there is a separately funded Mars Scout Program. See also Exploration of Mars.

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