The federal agency will give $750,000 to fund six-month feasibility studies. The agency chose the plans after narrowing down its list from 32 proposals.
Next year, the agency will choose two of the three missions for full development. It will limit costs to $105 million, excluding the cost of launching vehicles; full development will occur between 2012 and 2015, NASA said.
Researchers and scientists at the agency's Ames Research Center will contribute to the proposals, which include studying Earthlike planets around nearby stars, black holes, and the sun.
The first proposal, for a transiting exoplanet survey satellite (TESS), would allow researchers to observe the brightest 2.5 million stars through six telescopes. Researchers would look for more than 1,000 planets around them. Ames has assigned four people to the TESS science team. The center will oversee design, systems engineering, safety, and evaluations for the mission. Final assembly of the spacecraft and mission control will take place at Ames' Multi-Mission Operations Center.
The second proposal, to study gravity and extreme magnetism (GEMS), would use an X-ray telescope to monitor the highly magnetized matter as it flows into super massive black holes, NASA said. Ames has assigned three scientists to the GEMS team and NASA will dedicate resources from its Goddard Space Flight Center for related education and public outreach. Ames will also manage spacecraft development and testing.
The third proposal, for an interface region imaging spectrograph (IRIS), would use a solar telescope and spectrograph to uncover details about the sun's chromosphere and transition region, NASA said. Ames' Multi-Mission Operations Center facility will be used for mission control. The center will oversee operations and ground systems, while assisting with the engineering of the spacecraft, flight dynamics, integration, and testing. Ames also plans to provide related education and public outreach programs for that mission.
"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," Ames director S. Pete Worden said in a statement. "We're looking forward to teaming with the principal investigators to boost our proposals into selection for launch."