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Kelly Humphries/Robin Croft
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

May 30, 2008
NASA’s Ames Supports Three Small Explorer Finalists
MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. – Researchers from NASA’s Ames Research Center will play important roles in developing three of six missions selected this week as finalists in the Small Explorer (SMEX) Program.

Ames scientists and engineers are contributing to proposals for the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), studying Earthlike planets around nearby stars; the Gravity and Extreme Magnetism SMEX (GEMS), studying black holes; and the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS), studying the sun.

"Ames is pleased to be involved in these innovative, inexpensive Small Explorer mission proposals that promise to open new windows of understanding into our world and universe,” said Ames Director S. Pete Worden. “We’re looking forward to teaming with the principal investigators to boost our proposals into selection for launch.”

TESS would use a bank of six telescopes to observe the brightest 2.5 million stars, looking for more than 1,000 Earth-to-Jupiter-sized planets around them. Ames will manage the mission design, systems engineering and safety and mission assurance evaluations. The center’s integration and testing and Multi-Mission Operations Center facilities will be used for final spacecraft assembly and mission control, respectively. Ames also has four members of the TESS science team.

GEMS would use an X-ray telescope to track the flow of highly magnetized matter into super massive black holes. Ames will manage the spacecraft development and testing contract, providing technical and programmatic expertise to ensure the spacecraft is delivered on time and on budget. Three Ames scientists are on the GEMS science team, and Ames will work with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to implement an Education and Public Outreach program.

IRIS would use a solar telescope and spectrograph to reveal the dynamics of the sun’s chromosphere and transition region. Ames will manage mission operations, flight operations and ground systems activities, and provide support for spacecraft systems engineering, flight dynamics, integration and testing. Ames’ Multi-Mission Operations Center facility will be used for mission control. Ames also will manage education and public outreach activities.

The three SMEX proposals were among six judged to have the best science value among 32 submitted to NASA in January 2008. Each will receive $750,000 to conduct a six-month Phase A feasibility study. Following these detailed mission concept studies, NASA intends to select two of the mission proposals in the spring of 2009 for full development as SMEX missions. The first mission could launch by 2012. Both will launch by 2015. Mission costs will be capped at $105 million each, excluding the launch vehicle.

For more information about the Explorer Program on the Internet, visit:

For information about Ames, visit:


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