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Nasa announces new rover mission to Mars in 2020
Mongo
post Dec 4 2012, 11:24 PM
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NASA plans Mars rover remake for 2020

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NASA today announced a $1.5 billion plan to build another Mars rover based on the design of its current Curiosity rover, with the intention of sending it to the Red Planet in 2020 and perhaps storing up samples for later return to Earth.

The move comes less than a year after the space agency said it couldn't afford to contribute $1.4 billion to the European-led Exomars missions, and it seems likely to stir new debate within the planetary science community. Hoped-for missions to other interplanetary destinations, such as the Jovian moon Europa, could conceivably be impacted further by the revised plans for Mars exploration.

John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters, insisted that the budget could handle the new commitment. "This mission concept fits within the current and projected Mars exploration budget, builds on the exciting discoveries of Curiosity, and takes advantage of a favorable launch opportunity," he said in a NASA news release.

He said the future rover would be built on the same basic design used for the Curiosity rover, which landed on Mars in August, and thus capitalize on the design work that was done during Curiosity's development for its $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission. Like Curiosity, the new rover would be nuclear-powered, thanks to a spare radioisotope thermoelectric generator, Grunsfeld said.

Grunsfeld announced the plan during a town-hall session at the American Geophysical Union's fall meeting in San Francisco. Based on Twitter updates from the meeting, reaction was deeply mixed. "NASA town meeting audience is very quiet," Lindy Elkins-Tanton of the Carnegie Institution of Washington tweeted. "I think we are all in shock."

Projected budget cuts have cast a pall of uncertainty over future plans for interplanetary probes, but the idea of bringing samples back from Mars for study on Earth is on top of planetary scientists' priority list for the next decade. Grunsfeld told his AGU audience that the rover could have the capability to gather and store samples for later return, depending on how its science mission is defined.

NASA said a science definition team would be selected to outline the mission's objectives, and that the selection of science and instruments for the mission would then be openly competed. The mission would also help lay the groundwork for eventual human exploration of Mars, the agency said.

"The Obama administration is committed to a robust Mars exploration program," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in today's statement. "With this next mission, we're ensuring America remains the world leader in the exploration of the Red Planet, while taking another significant step toward sending humans there in the 2030s."

Two rovers are currently in operation on Mars — Curiosity and Opportunity. Meanwhile, three working spacecraft are orbiting the Red Planet: the European Space Agency's Mars Express as well as NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey orbiter. Next year, NASA is due to launch the $500 million MAVEN orbiter to study Mars' upper atmosphere. In 2016, NASA plans to send a $425 million lander called InSight to delve into Mars' depths.

NASA also plans to participate in the European Space Agency's Exomars program by contributing radios for an orbiter and lander due for launch in 2016, as well as scientific apparatus for a 2018 rover. But the space agency had to trim back its commitment to Exomars early this year, in large part due to the need to cover cost overruns on the James Webb Space Telescope. The Russian Space Agency is filling the gap left by NASA's pullback.

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who has been critical of past cutbacks in NASA's planetary science program, applauded the plan announced today.

"In its few short months on Mars, Curiosity has broadened our understanding of our planetary neighbor, and the findings announced thus far point to even greater discoveries as Curiosity continues to explore Gale Crater and Mount Sharp," Schiff said in a written statement. "An upgraded rover with additional instrumentation and capabilities is a logical next step that builds upon now-proven landing and surface operations systems."

However, Schiff said he favored launching the rover in 2018 — when the alignment of Earth and Mars is more favorable, permitting the launch of a heavier payload. "I will be working with NASA, the White House and my colleagues in Congress to see whether advancing the launch date is possible, and what it would entail," he said.
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elakdawalla
post Dec 4 2012, 11:35 PM
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Of interest to this forum: Science News journalist Alex Witze just tweeted: "I asked Cameron if he would fly his zoom camera (taken off MSL at last minute) on the new MSL. A: Yes I'll start pushing right away."


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Explorer1
post Dec 5 2012, 12:23 AM
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Another chance for the sky-crane too! It's gonna be like Phoenix all over again, with the recycling of legacy stuff?
And another chance for the PS microphones if they don't get on InSight....
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JRehling
post Dec 5 2012, 12:49 AM
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It's a necessary evil from time to time, and I'm speaking largely of Mars exploration, because that's the place that gets follow-up missions, that commitments are made to Mission #K+1 when science from Mission #K has not been gathered / studied.

This always makes an implicit bet on what the findings would be. If the intent is to gather samples for a later return, then the possibility remains that Curiosity will hit the jackpot and find the materials we would most want to return. But Curiosity has no sample cache, so we would either need another rover, after the 2018/2020 one, to gather samples in Gale, or to send the 2018/2020 rover back to the same spot.

The 2018/2020 landing site can be chosen after MSL's main mission will have ended, so it seems more likely that this rover will be sent to a site that is complementary to Gale (maybe an MSL backup, like Eberswalde) and then for any sample return, the choice will be made between Gale and the other site. That will require changes in the architecture depending on whether it will be the pre-cached samples at the other site, or a new roving mission will cover Curiosity's tracks to pick up samples at Gale.
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SFJCody
post Dec 5 2012, 07:23 AM
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To me it sounds like a splicing of the MAX-C and AFL concepts. I quite like it, although I have some reservations. Provided it really does have a caching capability and end up becoming the first element of a sample return it should provide a decent amount of science per buck. Using the existing reserves of expertise and spare materials from MSL (which would otherwise disperse and become outdated, respectively) could be seen as amortizing MSL's hefty development costs.
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Explorer1
post Dec 5 2012, 07:50 AM
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What exactly is meant by 'caching ability'? If we mean just storing samples on a rover, than Curiosity already has that ability in SAM's sample cups and other systems, right? Would this new rover just store them in a more easily removable area on its body without a followup mission doing serious interplanetary surgery?
Because if MSL finds something worth taking back to Earth, the latter could allow skipping a middleman mission.
I'm just throwing hypotheticals out there, so please excuse my idle (and years too early!) layman's speculation.
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djellison
post Dec 5 2012, 08:29 AM
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QUOTE (Explorer1 @ Dec 4 2012, 11:50 PM) *
What exactly is meant by 'caching ability'? If we mean just storing samples on a rover, than Curiosity already has that ability in SAM's sample cups and other systems, right?


No - specifically - cache samples for later collection for return to earth. SAM can't do that.
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ollopa
post Dec 5 2012, 01:10 PM
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Does anyone know what 3D picture John Grunsfeld was referring to at the beginning of his press briefing after the Town Hall? He talked about a 3D picture he could view on his iPad and could pan and tilt to look around.
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dombili
post Dec 5 2012, 03:29 PM
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http://www.planetary.org/blogs/casey-dreie...in-context.html

QUOTE (ollopa @ Dec 5 2012, 09:10 AM) *
Does anyone know what 3D picture John Grunsfeld was referring to at the beginning of his press briefing after the Town Hall?


I didn't watch the briefing, but judging your comment he was probably talking about the app called Spacecraft 3D (link goes to iTunes).
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Drkskywxlt
post Dec 5 2012, 03:29 PM
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Very surprised this was announced yesterday. Michael Meyer addressed the MAVEN workshop on Sunday and said the discussion was still ongoing and the future plan would be announced in a couple MONTHS...not days.
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dvandorn
post Dec 5 2012, 05:21 PM
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QUOTE (Explorer1 @ Dec 5 2012, 02:50 AM) *
What exactly is meant by 'caching ability'? If we mean just storing samples on a rover, than Curiosity already has that ability in SAM's sample cups and other systems, right? Would this new rover just store them in a more easily removable area on its body without a followup mission doing serious interplanetary surgery?

The idea of caching samples on a rover for a sample return mission (Mars Sample Return, or MSR) is that the rover would be the mobile part of the operation, picking up samples and inserting them into a cache that is designed to be transferred into the MSR Earth return capsule. The cache unit and transfer mechanism to place the cache unit into the MSR capsule are not yet designed. Of course, neither is the MSR return capsule.

The MSR lander, with its ascent stage and Earth return capsule, is going to be heavy, likely the heaviest thing we will try landing on Mars up to that time. The caching and transfer systems will almost definitely have to be landed separately, as part of the rover that collects the samples.

However the design evolves, it will definitely be more involved and complex than dropping rocks on the rover deck and trundling them up to the MSR lander. I envision an encapsulating system on the rover and a simple transfer of sample cans into well-fitting receptacles in the Earth return capsule. That will all have to be designed and implemented. So, no way either of the active rovers on Mars right now would be able to support MSR sample caching.

-the other Doug


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djellison
post Dec 5 2012, 05:26 PM
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QUOTE (dvandorn @ Dec 5 2012, 09:21 AM) *
The cache unit and transfer mechanism to place the cache unit into the MSR capsule are not yet designed. Of course, neither is the MSR return capsule.


Just a cursory google or NASA tech reports search will show that actually, sealed caching mechanisms and a return capsule have all had significant design work and are far more mature than you're suggesting.

QUOTE
The MSR lander, with its ascent stage and Earth return capsule, is going to be heavy


The earth return capsule will not be part of the ascent stage - it would be carried by the orbiter that will rendezvous with the ascent stage in orbit.
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dvandorn
post Dec 5 2012, 05:35 PM
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QUOTE (JRehling @ Dec 4 2012, 07:49 PM) *
...the possibility remains that Curiosity will hit the jackpot and find the materials we would most want to return. But Curiosity has no sample cache, so we would either need another rover, after the 2018/2020 one, to gather samples in Gale, or to send the 2018/2020 rover back to the same spot.

Well, yes-but. See, one of the big things that is happening in the Mars Exploration Program is that we're developing a recognition of "signatures" from orbital data to identify the kinds of rocks and soils we would see on the surface. The landers are providing ground truth for these initial attempts at identifying these signatures and interpreting them correctly.

What I would more expect than a revisit to Gale or Meridiani would be the identification, based on ground-truth-refined signatures seen from orbital data, of other locations that not only offer "jackpot" samples (as defined by correlations between MER/MSL data and orbital data) but also samples of other materials that are tempting but for which we have not yet achieved ground-truth correlations.

I think this is going to play out differently from "OK, Curiosity found our samples, let's land another MSL there to gather 'em up." I'd bet we will find another location where our jackpot signatures are strong but which also features evidence of even other fascinating sample options, and send an MSL with a caching system to that location.

-the other Doug


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JRehling
post Dec 6 2012, 09:55 PM
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I think you're right, other Doug, but the snag I had in mind was that there would be, I think, a respectable chance that once we've seen Gale and the other location, X, there's roughly a 50% probability that we would prefer to get samples from Gale returned rather than from X. Then the reaction to that would have to be either to create a new mission to go back to Gale, or say "Too bad!" and return the samples from X anyway.

To get more nuanced on that "50%", we might expect that because we're getting to know Mars better, that X will be a smarter decision than Gale. On the other hand, it may be that Gale is the best possible location to return from and X will be by definition the backup. I think most would agree that this is what happened with the MERs, that given two rovers, one landing site was correctly viewed as the favorite, and Gusev ended up being a poor alternative which was, perhaps coincidentally interesting for reasons (the Columbia Hills) other than why it was chosen (the inflow site of Ma'adim Vallis).

Mind you, I'm not finding fault with the approach: It's a matter of trade-offs. The possibility of that hiccough, a risk that we will need to send a "collector" to Gale, may be a better approach than, say, waiting to design the next mission until much later, or sending an exact MSL clone to X and guaranteeing that we'll need a collector later.
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Fran Ontanaya
post Dec 7 2012, 02:29 AM
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I wonder if it will still use the same lubricant or they'll try again to use dry one.


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