NASA has ramped up its next phase of space exploration by green lighting further development of two unmanned mission concepts. Scheduled to launch sometime in the mid-2020s, the proposed missions include the Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return (CAESAR) spacecraft, which is designed to bring back comet materials to Earth, and the Dragonfly dual quadcopter, which is designed to fly about in the atmosphere of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
Chosen from 12 candidates submitted in April as part of a New Frontiers competition, the two missions will now receive additional funding until the end of next year. This will allow CAESAR’s Cornell University developers and Dragonfly’s John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) time to improve their concepts. In 2019, one of the two missions will be selected to go forward and perhaps become the space agency’s fourth New Frontiers mission alongside New Horizons, Juno, and OSIRIS-REx.
The CAESAR mission is relatively straightforward. It’s a followup to ESA’s Rosetta mission, which paid an extended visit to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from 2014 to 2016 and made the first successful attempt to place a lander on a comet. It would launch in 2024 or 2025 and rendezvous with comet 67P.