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starship-design: [Fwd: JPL Awards Contracts for Planet-Hunting Mission Studies]
For those of you who may not have seen this yet . . .
> MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE
> JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
> CALIFORNIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
> NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION
> PASADENA, CALIF. 91109 TELEPHONE (818) 354-5011
> Contact: Michelle Viotti (818) 354-8774
> FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 21, 2000
> JPL AWARDS CONTRACTS FOR PLANET-HUNTING MISSION STUDIES
> Creative sparks are flying as four contract-winning teams
> begin the quest to design Terrestrial Planet Finder, an
> ambitious mission in NASA's Origins Program that will look for
> possible life-supporting planets around other stars.
> Through a three-month competitive process, the Jet
> Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., selected the industrial-
> academic teams, which will spend the next two years developing
> mission concepts for Terrestrial Planet Finder. The teams are
> led by Ball Aerospace of Boulder, Colo.; Lockheed Martin Space
> Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif.; TRW of Redondo Beach, Calif.; and
> SVS, Inc. of Albuquerque, N.M. About 75 scientists from 30
> universities and research institutions, 16 industrial firms, and
> two NASA centers are represented on the teams.
> "We've succeeded in our goal of engaging some of the best
> minds in the world," said Dr. Firouz Naderi, Origins Program
> Manager and Terrestrial Planet Finder project manager at JPL.
> "Now their task is to cover the waterfront on all feasible
> mission concepts for the Terrestrial Planet Finder, bringing us
> one step closer to finding out whether life exists elsewhere in
> the universe."
> Finding habitable, Earth-like planets doesn't come easy.
> "The challenge is like trying to locate a firefly next to the
> beam of a brilliant searchlight," said Terrestrial Planet
> Finder Project Scientist Dr. Charles A. Beichman of JPL.
> The solution depends on developing a whole suite of
> challenging technologies, including those necessary to fly
> several 3.5 meter (137-inch) telescopes in a formation so precise
> that we will know their positions to a fraction of a centimeter,
> even though the space between them will span a few football
> fields. The mission's success will also depend on the ability to
> cancel out a star's glare so that a planet one million-times
> fainter can be seen, and will require instruments so sensitive
> that they can identify the presence of life-sustaining chemicals
> on a planet up to 50 light years away from Earth.
> "We will be looking for warm, water-bearing planets like
> Earth, and even for signs of primitive life," said Beichman. "To
> get there, Terrestrial Planet Finder will be built on the
> technological shoulders of earlier Origins missions, but several
> leaps in innovation will still be required."
> That's why the team at JPL decided to establish an
> innovative approach to mission design and planning. To avoid
> basing Planet Finder's design on current and potentially
> "conventional" thinking, JPL threw open the doors to invention by
> requesting proposals that would reflect the most diverse set of
> feasible and affordable mission architectures.
> "We didn't want the design teams to be constrained by
> existing concepts or so-called 'right answers,'" said Naderi.
> "This way we'll have the broadest set of concepts to choose from
> and won't miss out on any opportunity that's too good to pass
> In the first, eight-month phase of the study, the four
> contract teams will be busy brainstorming options for detecting
> and characterizing far-away planets. In December 2000, the best
> two architectures from each team will be selected for further
> study in the planned, 11-month Phase 2 study, ending in November
> Terrestrial Planet Finder is planned to launch in 2012.
> Over a five-year period, it will take a look at 250 stars to
> determine which ones may have orbiting, life-sustaining planets.
> The mission will also advance our understanding of how planets
> and their parent stars form by making thousands of images, all
> with a sharpness 10 to 100 times better than those of the Hubble
> Space Telescope. More information about Terrestrial Planet
> Finder can be found at: http://tpf.jpl.nasa.gov .
> The Origins Program seeks to understand our cosmic roots by
> detailing how galaxies, stars, planets, and the chemicals
> necessary for life formed and developed in the universe. Its
> other primary goal is to search for the presence of life on
> distant worlds, answering the question "Are we alone?" Details
> about the Origins Program can be found at:
> http://origins.jpl.nasa.gov .
> JPL manages both Terrestrial Planet Finder and the Origins
> Program on behalf of NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington,
> D.C. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology
> in Pasadena.
> 03/21/2000 MV
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