ASPERA3 Mission
Stardust Mission
Kepler Mission


Proposing a Mission

The philosophy of Discovery is to solicit proposals for an entire mission, put together by a team comprised of people from universities, NASA centers, Federally Funded Research and Development Centers, industry, and small businesses, led by a Principal Investigator (PI). The PI develops 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 assuring that cost, schedule and performance objectives are met.

Discovery seeks to keep performance high and expenses low by using new technologies and cost caps. The cost for the entire mission (design, development, launch vehicle, instruments, spacecraft, launch, mission operations, data analysis, education and public outreach) must be less than $425 million. The development time from mission start to launch can be no more than 36 months. The intent is to have a mission launch every 12 to 24 months.

NASA is committed to the principles of open competition and merit review as a key to excellence. Proposals 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.

Announcements Of Opportunity

The call for proposals is done through a NASA Announcement of Opportunity (AO) that can be found on the NASA Solicitation and Proposal Integrated Review and Evaluation System, or NSPIRES, website under "Solicitations." NSPIRES also lists proposals selected to conduct NASA research.

The Discovery Program Acquisitions website includes announcements and a library of reference documents needed to write a Discovery proposal.

The Science Office for Mission Assessments (SOMA) at NASA Langley Research Center supports the Science Mission Directorate (SMD) at NASA Headquarters in the acquisition of Earth and space science missions and instruments. SOMA supports the development of AO solicitations and the Technical, Management, and Cost (TMC) evaluations of proposals received in response to the AO solicitations and Phase A concept studies.  In addition, the SOMA leads special studies, independent assessments, and reviews for SMD.

Education And Public Outreach

Among NASA‘s strategic goals is to communicate the results of its efforts to the American public and to enhance the science and technical education of the next generation of Americans.  All selected investigations are required to implement a core Education and Public Outreach (E/PO) program consistent with SMD policy. The guideline is that one per cent of the mission cost cap is to be allocated to the core education and outreach program.  Each Discovery mission has a plan to actively engage students and the public in the excitement of space exploration through a variety of venues.

Proposals may also include a Student Collaboration (SC) that could be development of an instrument; an investigation of scientific questions; analysis and display of data; development of supporting hardware or software; or other aspects of the investigation.

Go to "NASA Science - For Researchers" for information on preparing the E/PO element of a mission proposal.


NASA also accepts proposals for competitively selected Discovery Program Missions of Opportunity. This provides opportunities to participate in non-NASA missions by providing funding for a science instrument or hardware components of a science instrument or to re-purpose an existing NASA spacecraft. These opportunities are currently offered through NASA's Stand Alone Mission of Opportunity (SALMON) program.