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Mars Sample Return
John Whitehead
post Jul 30 2021, 09:09 PM
Post #406


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Regarding the selection of a contractor to build the whole MAV (versus only the solid rocket motors, see Post #402 and #403 above), a new announcement from MSFC today says that a Request For Proposals is planned for August 16, with bids due September 16 (bottom of page 2 in the following attachment).
MSFCmavPlan2021Jul30fromSAMgov.pdf

An earlier related RFI (Request For Information) dated 2021Jun11, referred to the 525-kg MAV design (page 4, third paragraph).
MSFCmavRFI2021Jun11SAMgovSaveAsPDF.pdf

Another document with the RFI, also dated June 11, refers to the 400-kg MAV design having the unguided spinning upper stage (page J-6 of the DRAFT Performance Work Statement for the Mars Ascent Vehicle Integrated System, MAVIS).
MSFCmav2021Jun11-T-Draft+PWS_MAVIS.pdf

The above three PDF documents are attached here. So as of June 11, both MAV designs were under consideration. Page 2 of the June 11 RFI said that MSFC wanted to hear from small businesses, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), and Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) that would have capabilities to contribute to the MAV project.

In response to questions during the MEPAG meeting on June 21, the MSR Program Director at NASA HQ said that he expected MSFC to have a MAV contract in place in FY22, which would be sometime in October or later, consistent with the attached procurement documents.
Attached File(s)
Attached File  MSFCmavPlan2021Jul30fromSAMgov.pdf ( 217.35K ) Number of downloads: 175
Attached File  MSFCmav2021Jun11_T_Draft_PWS_MAVIS.pdf ( 1.41MB ) Number of downloads: 181
Attached File  MSFCmavRFI2021Jun11SAMgovSaveAsPDF.pdf ( 259.91K ) Number of downloads: 186
 
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John Whitehead
post Aug 20 2021, 09:04 PM
Post #407


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The formal request for proposals to help MSFC build the whole MAV was released on August 16, revealing new information about the MAV plan. Here are some key points from the RFP documents, with my comments.

1. The main RFP document (459-page PDF) shows that MSFC has selected the two-stage solid propellant MAV design that has the risky spinning unguided upper stage (page J-1-4). This "lightweight" MAV was 320 kg in mid-2020, then 380 (Planetary Decadal Survey Mars Panel meeting 2021Jan5), then 400 (Decadal Steering meeting Feb11), and now it is 450 kg. The MAV keeps getting heavier, and the design is still only "conceptual" (page J-1-3), so it is very possible that this MAV will end up too heavy to send to Mars, even without the fetch rover. While the Sample Retrieval Lander (SRL) will deliver the fetch rover, the MAV is hoped to fit (with its Mars ground support equipment) on the newer Mars Lander Vehicle (MLV, page J-1-2).

2. It is now certain that 2026 was too optimistic for departure from Earth, as the MAV RFP says 2028. Of the many supporting documents, at least one (MAV-001, page 10 of 115) says "Earliest launch window is 2028," indicating it could be later.

3. Flight testing over Earth is planned only for the spinning upper stage, starting at 100,000 feet altitude, which the RFP refers to as simulating the Mars atmosphere at second stage ignition (page J-1-6). This seems to be a typo of sorts, because 100,000 feet over Earth has atmospheric density like the Mars surface, while second stage ignition would occur above the Mars atmosphere.

4. The supporting document (MAV-001 page 31 of 115) acknowledges that the first stage thrust vector steering is new technology (presumably meaning for this particular size and the need to be unusually lightweight), "not space flight proven." It says that "early risk reduction testing" is needed, but there is no specific mention of flight testing the first stage, let alone the whole MAV.

5. If the whole MAV is not flight tested, that would risk the most expensive planetary mission on a brand-new launch vehicle (for Mars departure). For departure from Earth, launch vehicle development generally takes longer than expected, some designs do not work out at all, and important missions are usually not risked on the first flight. Presumably the MSR schedule will slip into the 2030s for Earth departure, after reality is acknowledged and at least one whole MAV is then flight-tested over Earth. The current MAV schedule has been squeezed unrealistically for two reasons. The 2026 and 2028 dates for Earth departure came from hopes for Mars surface operations during warm weather there (permitting solar power instead of RTG power). The other reason is that the MAV challenge has been underestimated and postponed for decades, as noted years ago in this forum and explained in my white papers submitted last October to the Planetary Decadal Survey (see Post #389). Hopefully MAV development will proceed whether or not MSR continues steadily as a formal flight program with Phase A, Phase B, etc.

6. The org chart for the MAV project could be messy. The RFP states, "The Contractor and the Government will work together in a collaborative environment, using the Government provided conceptual design as a starting point." MSFC will retain responsibility for procuring the solid rocket motors, guidance navigation and control including flight software, and flight testing, leaving the contractor to be responsible for the rest. Apparently, the contractor is not going to be held responsible for making a complete working MAV. Hopefully the collaboration will work out, benefitting from the combined expertise of MSFC and the contractor.

7. Some good news is that the MSR campaign is expecting more money than was anticipated in mid-2020, indicating a strong commitment to proceed.

8. Proposals are due on September 16, and the cover letter (attached here) says they expect to have a contract in place by February 2022. The MAV RFP can be found at the following U.S. Government website.
https://sam.gov/opp/30aaa0f8713f40ba898050d17b95f690/view

The 459-page PDF is the one having the following filename.
MAVIS RFP 80MSFC21R0001.pdf

The MAV-001 supporting document is inside the following Zip folder on the website.
J-4A Applicable Documents.zip

Attached File(s)
Attached File  Signed_RFP_Letter_MAVIS.pdf ( 257.94K ) Number of downloads: 137
 
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