NASA is seeking information from industry on a common upper-stage compatible with various launch vehicles the agency plans to use for future planetary missions.

“Historically, high-energy planetary missions that require performance beyond a launch vehicle’s contracted capability have individually acquired and integrated an upper stage separate from the launch service,” the agency says in its request for information (RFI). “This one-off approach complicates mission design and limits synergy with other programs. An upper-stage service would better support the science mission community by providing a known and common capability available for use on multiple ... launch vehicles.”

This “complete and independent” upper stage must be compatible with existing launch vehicles and use industry-standard payload adapters and electrical connectors. The stage should provide an approximate delta-V of 3,000 m/sec. (10,000 ft./sec.) given a payload of 500 kg (1,100 lb.), and should support a payload range of 400 to 3,800 kg, according to NASA. However, “both larger and smaller systems are of interest as well,” the RFI says.

“For the purpose of assessing NASA missions that may benefit from the use of an upper stage, NASA is considering a mission model with the potential for a Mars mission every two years along with an additional science mission every three to five years beginning in the 2017 time frame,” the RFI adds.

Responses from industry are due Feb. 12.