Maryland institutions are involved in two of the three teams competing for $425 million in NASA funding to launch a new planetary mission in 2016.
NASA said Thursday that the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California were selected from among 28 competitors for the Discovery Program funding.
Each will get $3 million for preliminary design work. After a review next year, one will be selected for funding and development.
Goddard would manage a mission to land a spacecraft repeatedly on Comet Hopper to monitor its evolution as it interacts with the sun. The principal investigator would be Jessica Sunshine, at the University of Maryland College Park.
APL's proposal is to fly a spacecraft to Saturn and splash down in the methane-ethane ocean of its largest moon, Titan. It would be the first exploration of an ocean beyond Earth. The principal investigator is Ellen Stofan, of Proxemy Research, Inc., in Gaithersburg.
The proposal from JPL would place a lander on Mars to study the interior of the planet and increase scientific understanding of the formation and evolution of the terrestrial planets. The principal investigator is JPL's Bruce Banerdt.
"This is high science return at a price that's right," said Jim Green, director of NASA's planetary science directorate.