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NASA Dawn asteroid mission told to ‘stand down’
Rakhir
post Nov 7 2005, 03:55 PM
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NASA Dawn Asteroid Mission Told To ‘Stand Down’ . sad.gif

The decision to stand down, according to SPACE.com sources, appears related to budget-related measures and workforce cutbacks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

http://www.space.com/missionlaunches/051107_dawn_qown.html

Rakhir
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Mariner9
post Nov 7 2005, 07:36 PM
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I suspect the reason is both budgetary and technical.

Nearly three years ago I met a guy who was working as an 'intern' at JPL. He worked at another NASA center, and was essentially getting cross training by working at JPL for a while.

He told me at the time that Dawn was experiencing a lot of technical problems. At least one engineer had commented in a review meeting that "Deep Space 1 suceeding may have been the worst thing that ever happened to JPL"

I got the impression that JPL basically sold NASA headquarters that the Dawn mission could stay within Discovery Program cost constraints by stating that it would use a lot of design inheritance from Deep Space 1.

My friend told me that the thing he learned from all this was never take at face value anyone who uses the phrase "design inheritance" ... unless they are truely using the original component almost precisely as originally designed.

Well, Dawn is not Deep Space 1 with an extra couple ion thrusters, and it's been in cost and technical trouble ever since.

I suspect that with the 5 % workforce reduction at JPL, NASA headquarters wants to be darn sure that the reduction in personell doesn't mean that Dawn is threatened by either budget shortfalls or loss of any key personell.

Of course... there is also that nagging voice in the back of my head that reminds me that Discovery 2004 down select yeilded no mission, and the 2005 RFP Discovery was delayed for "several weeks" in April, and we still haven't seen that come out. So there may be a LOT of budget problems in Discovery land.
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Guest_BruceMoomaw_*
post Nov 7 2005, 09:09 PM
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Andy Dantzler said at the COMPLEX meeting that the main question is whether the big parade of technical problems Dawn has been having are just a chance bad-luck collection of unconnected problems, or whether there's some programmatic cause for them. He also wants to know whether the cost of eliminating them will be too excessive. Thus the stand-down until an assessment group can look at this, since Dawn has a very long launch window.

As for Discovery, the only thing delaying release of the latest AO is the fact that Congress has yet to decide whether to stick to the Senate's current insistence on retaining the current $350 million cost cap (which Dantzler says would be disastrous) instead of raising it to $450 million as NASA wants.
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gpurcell
post Nov 8 2005, 02:35 PM
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This mission has had nothing but problems. The major descope and now this. Given the small reserve they used to get it in under the Discovery cap, and the technical challenge of the mission, the lack of budget margins has really bitten it hard.

What really concerns me is that the the talking points from JPL make no sense. The standdown cannot be due to Lab layoffs as the contract would surely have funded sufficient FTEs to do the job. And the report of the investigative team indicates this is about a bit more than budgets.

Now, I've been on the wrong end of an federal department investigation, so I'm somewhat cynical about the process. But this would not be happening is, for good reasons or bad, high up folks in NASA did not have significant concerns about Dawn's prospects for success.
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Guest_BruceMoomaw_*
post Nov 8 2005, 03:06 PM
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The stand-down will last for at least three months, until a decision is made. If there's a further cost overrun, the mission will be delayed into 2007 -- and if any new cost overrun exceeds $100 million, the mission goes into the dumpster.

I can tell you, by the way, that Andy Dantzler is furious at the Senate's attempt to retain the Discovery cost cap at $350 million.
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dvandorn
post Nov 8 2005, 03:56 PM
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After reading Squyres' "Roving Mars," I want to remind y'all that this is exactly what *almost* happened to the MERs. They had some pretty impressive technical hurdles to overcome, with an ATLO that came together on a wing and a prayer. Add just one more major technical issue to overcome, and the MERs would have been forced to stand down for a late 2004 / early 2005 launch opportunity.

Just a reminder that trouble -- even serious trouble -- encountered in ATLO doesn't necessarily mean that the mission will go badly. It just means that they're working out all the bugs at the right time, on the ground when there's still a chance of fixing them...

-the other Doug


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“The trouble ain't that there is too many fools, but that the lightning ain't distributed right.” -Mark Twain
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ljk4-1
post Nov 8 2005, 04:25 PM
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QUOTE (BruceMoomaw @ Nov 8 2005, 10:06 AM)
The stand-down will last for at least three months, until a decision is made.  If there's a further cost overrun, the mission will be delayed into 2007 -- and if any new cost overrun exceeds $100 million, the mission goes into the dumpster.

I can tell you, by the way, that Andy Dantzler is furious at the Senate's attempt to retain the Discovery cost cap at $350 million.
*


What would they do with the probe if the mission is cancelled? All that time and money for nothing?


--------------------
"After having some business dealings with men, I am occasionally chagrined,
and feel as if I had done some wrong, and it is hard to forget the ugly circumstance.
I see that such intercourse long continued would make one thoroughly prosaic, hard,
and coarse. But the longest intercourse with Nature, though in her rudest moods, does
not thus harden and make coarse. A hard, sensible man whom we liken to a rock is
indeed much harder than a rock. From hard, coarse, insensible men with whom I have
no sympathy, I go to commune with the rocks, whose hearts are comparatively soft."

- Henry David Thoreau, November 15, 1853

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Guest_BruceMoomaw_*
post Nov 8 2005, 06:12 PM
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Well, the trouble is that if you DON'T stick to your previous threat to cancel a selected mission that undergoes cost overruns, every future proposer is going to deliberately underestimate their mission's cost and then later say, in an innocent tone: "Whoops! Well, whaddya know?..."

It may have been a mistake to fly Messenger despite the fact that it busted its cost cap; the justifications were that NASA got a solid endorsement from the science community for doing so and that a lot of the cost rise was due to factors that provably weren't the design team's fault and couldn't have been anticipated by it. But that can't be done again without opening the gates of Hell. (And, yes, NASA has cancelled competitively selected missions that underwent cost overruns, even after the spacecraft had been almost completely built -- they did it with the "Clark" environmental satellite, and they almost did it with Gravity Probe B.)
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Mariner9
post Nov 8 2005, 06:33 PM
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The Discovery missiong cap of 350 million really does need to go up, or NASA's expectations for a Discovery Mission need to go down.

Several years ago I remember reading a summary of a meeting between NASA Discovery program officials and members of teams who had particiapated in Discovery missions. The meeting was a review of how Discovery was working, what wasn't working, and troubles on the horizon. One of the major points that the participants made was that Discovery mission scopes had been inflating since the start of the program.

Everyone felt that in the early days of Discover, they could propose something modest (such as a Lunar Prospecter) and compete with the other teams. But now the winners were at the Messenger and Dawn level.

Lunar Prospecter was a spin stabalized lunar orbiter, a simple instrument package, and no onboard computer. Compare that to the 3-axis stabilized Messenger Mercury orbiter sent out on a 6 year mission with 7 instruments and operating in a fairly hostile space environment compared to Lunar Orbit.

In order to compete, the proposers had to come up with extremely aggressive missions and overly optimistic cost and schedule estimates.

NASA seemed to agree, but made some general statement of "well, that is something to worry about, but we don't know how to address it right now".

Seems simple enough. Either you down scope, and start being more open to the CONTOUR type mission proposals again (well, hopefully better funded and carefully executed than CONTOUR) ... or you raise your mission cap.

Just as an outside observer, I'd be fine with raising the cap to 450 million and flying a little less often. But then again, there hasn't been a Discovery mission selected in 4 years, so a little less often seems to be turning into never.
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Mariner9
post Nov 8 2005, 06:35 PM
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One last point: when I said "it sounds simple enough" to down scope expectaions, or raise the cost cap.... I was being a bit sarcastic.

Obviously if it was that simple, they would have done it already.
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djellison
post Nov 8 2005, 10:14 PM
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QUOTE (ljk4-1 @ Nov 8 2005, 04:25 PM)
What would they do with the probe if the mission is cancelled?  All that time and money for nothing?
*


To quote senior Nasa management during the pre-launch-MER-panic

"I think it'd look pretty damn good in the Smithsonian"

ohmy.gif

Doug
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Marz
post Nov 8 2005, 10:23 PM
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QUOTE (djellison @ Nov 8 2005, 04:14 PM)
To quote senior Nasa management during the pre-launch-MER-panic

"I think it'd look pretty damn good in the Smithsonian"

ohmy.gif

Doug
*

sad.gif
This mission needs to fly, so if they need more time and money to get it right, then that's what must happen. I'd imagine the science community puts a fairly high priority on this mission in light of recent Ceres observations, so maybe it should qualify for another waiver like Messenger?
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Guest_BruceMoomaw_*
post Nov 9 2005, 10:41 AM
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Good news on the Discovery cost cap front: the Senate-House conference has just officially raised it to $425 million. Not quite what Andy Dantzler wanted, but close.
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punkboi
post Nov 10 2005, 07:29 AM
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QUOTE (BruceMoomaw @ Nov 9 2005, 03:41 AM)
Good news on the Discovery cost cap front: the Senate-House conference has just officially raised it to $425 million.  Not quite what Andy Dantzler wanted, but close.
*


Where did you read or hear about this, Bruce? 'Cause it's good news. smile.gif


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Guest_BruceMoomaw_*
post Nov 10 2005, 08:07 AM
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It's at http://www.rules.house.gov/109/text/hr2862...09_hr2862cr.htm . (Note also the order to NASA to initiate Europa Orbiter in FY 2007, and to bolster spending for SIM and the Sun-Earth Connection missions. But also note the staggering $280 million in Congressional pork -- er, earmarks.)
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