« Bill Hines, RIP | Main | Utterly beautiful maps »

Comments

Bruce Moomaw

If I may use your site to toot my own horn, I finally have that very long article on the first meeting of NASA's Mars Strategic Roadmap Committee (in January) up at SpaceDaily: https://www.spacedaily.com/news/mars-future-05f.html . (The main holdup was that I had also made a deal with "Astronomy" magazine to publish a super-shortened version of the article on their website, and they didn't get around to putting their version up until Feb. 28.) Anyway, I think it provides a prety thorough overview of the way things were shaping up then, in the Committee's eyes. And since then they've held their second meeting -- which I wasn't able to attend, but whose presentation materials can be seen at https://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/apio/mars_materials2.htm . (This is a sub-branch of NASA's extremely useful overall site for the Strategic Roadmaps at https://www.nasa.gov/about/strategic_roadmaps.html . I DID manage to attend the first meeting of the Solar System Strategic Roadmap meeting in February and am now working on an article on that.)

Anyway, to sum up the relevant parts: the Committe, virtually from the start, was VERY strongly in favor of one or two additional MSLs, for the simple reason that the MSL is yet another Mars reconaissance mission -- its primary function is to locate traces of complex organics on Mars' surface, after which the still more complex followup missions (Sample Return, and/or the Astrobiology Field Lab rover) would be sent to the same location to determine whether those organics actually do constitute biological evidence. But if the first MSL fails to turn up evidence of such organics, we will be very much in the dark as to where to send those missions -- and, since the cost of a sample return mission in particular has now risen to $4 billion, we damn well better send them to the best possible locations on Mars. Thus the committee's very firm-looking determination to recommend one or two more MSLs as additional reconaissance missions, although it's uncertain whether all of them would be launched before any of the more complex followups or they would be interleaved with them. (If none of the MSLs turn up interesting organics, the next step will probably be to start launching stationary "Deep Drill" landers to dig down 10-20 meters and look for possible biological traces there.)

There was also an awful lot of unease on the part of the Committee about launching the first Mars Telesat orbiter just a month before the first MSL in 2009 -- if the MTO fails, the MSL's data return will be tremendously choked off. And there are still serious technical worries bout MSL -- in particular, whether the proposed "Skycrane" landing system will work, and whether they can cram all of the 10 selected experiments (or even all of the top 6) onto the rover. So I think it extremely likely that the first MSL will be delayed till 2011, although I have no idea whether they'll try launching two of them at the same time. "Space.com" also has a recent article on this at https://www.space.com/news/mars_overhaul_050311.html . (What would really be wise is to build the second MTO in advance, so that if the first one fails it can be launched in 2011 to cover the first MSL -- with MTO-2 otherwise being held in storage until it finally is needed.)

But this does make it likely that the next Scouts -- or at least one of the two Scouts currently set for 2011 -- will be bumped up to 2009 to replace the MSL then. And the Committee has also started wrangling about whether to fiddle with the Scout program, for several reasons. For one thing, JPL's Mars program director Firouz Naderi told them flatly that the current $400 million Scout cost cap is not adequate to provide any more small Mars landers -- Phoenix was a fluke, since the spacecraft was already built. For another, there's a debate under way as to whether all the Scouts should be chosen completely independently of the goals of the main Mars program (as with the Discovery missions), or whether NASA should set possible scientific goals in advance for at least some of them (as with the New Frontiers missions). Phoenix ended up having its selection virtually ordered by NASA headquarters, precisely because its inspection of the near-surface polar ice layer did mesh so well with the main program -- and the same thing seems likely to be true of a methane-mapper mission; I'd be surprised not to see one fly as the second Scout.

Also, there's the entirely new additional line of "Mars Testbed" missions to make the studies and tests needed as preparation for eventual manned Mars expeditions -- added as part of the Bush Initiative -- with the first one currently set for 2011 along with the next two Scouts, and future ones going up every 2 to 4 years. These are fairly expensive -- the first one is likely to run about $600 million by itself -- and the more of their experiments can be carried instead as piggyback payloads on other Mars spacecraft, the better. The follow-up MSLs might carry some of them, but one of the presentations at the second Committee meeting makes it clear that consideration will also be given to trying to combine Mars Scout and Mars Testbed missions where possible.

Bayu

Ben detto Anonimo.Su forza,fai unp sforzo,registrati,mettiti na foto come fcicao io,scrivi in chiaro.Mica siam un grupop di Al-Qaeda qui.Anzi,siamo tutti pronti per partire su Marte,io di sicuro.Se mi chiamassero mollo tutto e ci vado,marte,Io,Europa,Enceladus,Un Asteroide,un pezzo di sasso.Tutto,pur di metter il naso fuori dalla Terra.A gratis pure ci vado e in biciletta:DMa tanto,a 46 anni col tubo che potrei andarci nello spazio,non ti deve nemmeno venire la goccia al naso.

The comments to this entry are closed.