NASA recently released preliminary guidelines for proposals for the next Discovery Program mission. The Principal Investigator (PI) budget, which covers the cost of the spacecraft, its science payload, and data analysis, is capped at \$450 million.

Outside of the PI’s budget, NASA will pay for the cost of the mission launch. For the first time, NASA will pay for the cost of the mission’s operation outside of the PI budget. In past competitions, missions with long flight times, and hence high operations costs, were at a disadvantage to missions with low operations costs. This appears to be an effort to equalize operations costs. Missions that would benefit are any with flight times of several years compared to the weeks or months to reach Venus, the moon, or Mars. With operations costs not counted against the PI’s budget, the new competition probably keeps up with inflation compared to the previous competition. (NASA’s announcement does emphasize that the operations costs projected for a mission must be ‘reasonable’.)

If I were heading a team putting together a Discovery Program mission proposal, I would want some hard data to determine what NASA might consider 'reasonable'. Several points to consider:

NASA has already announced that no radioisotope power systems will be available for your mission, so you're stuck with solar power. Also, previous Discovery missions could get 1/3 of their budget from a foreign space agency, but this did not apply to science instruments paid for by foreign governments; now, the 1/3 cap has been extended to science payload as well.

As a savvy project manager, my first thought would be to try to see how previous mission proposals were budgeted.

Are there any online sources for budgets from previous Discovery Program missions?


1 Answer 1


Probably not. You should team with someone who has previously proposed to and won Discovery proposals.

  • $\begingroup$ Can you expand on this answer? It is showing up in the low quality post queue. Given your history on this site, I believe you know what your talking about, but as a stand alone answer it does sound rather like an opinion, rather than a valid answer. $\endgroup$ Mar 3, 2014 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ Short and terse, but I'm up voting as well. Being the PI on a half a billion dollar project is not an undertaking for a newbie. Part of the ranking NASA assigns is whether the PI can keep the project together, keep it on budget, and keep it on time. No track record = kiss of death. Someone who's done this before will also be better at reading the "what does NASA really want" tea leaves. $\endgroup$ Mar 3, 2014 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ Others can edit my answer or post their own if they would like to expand. David Hammen's comments are right on. $\endgroup$
    – Mark Adler
    Mar 3, 2014 at 18:17

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