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MSL "Heat shield woes"
djellison
post Feb 20 2008, 11:17 PM
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Chang'e 1, Chandrayaan - 1, Kaguya, LRO. That's four ( or, if you want to get picky, six given the Kaguya sub-sats)

LCROSS, that makes 5. Grail - that's 6 and 7 (or, again, 8 and 9 if you count the Kag-sub's). Taking Chang'e 1, Chandrayaan 1, Kaguya, LRO, LCROSS and 2x Grail - there's your 7.

No one said that Alan was talking about 7 NASA spacecraft going to the Moon.

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Jim from NSF.com
post Feb 20 2008, 11:35 PM
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point taken
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mcaplinger
post Feb 21 2008, 12:54 AM
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QUOTE (Mariner9 @ Feb 20 2008, 11:36 AM) *
...JPL has allowed an 800 million dollar project to baloon into a 1.8 billion dollar project.

Out of curiosity, where do you get the $800M and $1.8B numbers?


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Mariner9
post Feb 21 2008, 02:23 AM
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The 800 million figure was rather informal. I was at a JPL open house 4 or 5 years ago and had a chance to speak to one of the engineers on the project. I asked him about the estimated cost, and he said that they felt it would be no more expensive than MER. I was rather dubious about it, but he said that since there would be only one MSL, as opposed to two MERs, that the cost savings in only a single launch, flight operations, etc, should help contain the costs and it would not be any more expensive than the MER project.

Uh, huh.

Admitedly this was a very un-official conversation. But he made it sound like this was the internal consensus at the time. Right off the bat it occured to me that an Atlas V launch costs a heck of a lot more than a Delta II, so this didn't look like a very realistic expectation on their part. I had this very bad feeling that JPL was being too optimistic in their cost estimates, and overly ambitious on the project technical challenges.

Later I remember seeing numbers that kept climbing with every report, such as like 1.2 billion and 1.5 billion in Aviation Week. A few months ago when the third cost overrun was reported (and Alan Stern made them scale back some of the instruments) the figure had crept up to 1.7 billion.

If additional problems recently identified adds another 1-200 million, that takes the project cost as high as 1.9 billion.... so I thought it reasonable to throw out a ballpark figure of 1.8.

I'm not going to say "I told you so" because I've never built a MARS rover personally, but that bad feeling I had at the time seems to have come true.
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mcaplinger
post Feb 21 2008, 06:04 AM
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QUOTE (Mariner9 @ Feb 20 2008, 06:23 PM) *
The 800 million figure was rather informal....
Later I remember seeing numbers that kept climbing with every report, such as like 1.2 billion and 1.5 billion in Aviation Week. A few months ago when the third cost overrun was reported (and Alan Stern made them scale back some of the instruments) the figure had crept up to 1.7 billion.

You'll forgive me if I call BS on this. A hallway conversation with somebody at a JPL open house? Media reporting? Are those figures with or without margin and reserves? Are they in real-year dollars? Do they include the launch vehicle? How about the RTG? How about foreign contributions? Is this through the end of the mission? What are the ops cost assumptions?

If you're going to condemn the whole project on the basis of cost overruns, you might want to really understand what the initial cost estimates were, what has actually been spent, and what is further costs are expected and authorized.


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mchan
post Feb 21 2008, 06:30 AM
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QUOTE (elakdawalla @ Feb 20 2008, 11:53 AM) *
The next New Frontiers mission will have to be inner solar system, no further out than Jupiter, because there's not enough plutonium left (he said) for anything in the outer solar system -- it'll have to be solar powered.

You had blogged a story on nuclear-powered Discovery mission using the ASRG in which Alan Stern stated that he would not risk a new power supply on a flagship without seeing it run successfully on a cheaper mission first. Well, a New Frontiers mission is cheaper than a flagship, and there is evidently enough plutonium to run the ASRG. smile.gif

The likely answer is that the longer time of flight of an outer planets New Frontiers mission has a higher risk of long-life failure from the ASRG than a shorter time of flight of an inner planets Discovery mission. sad.gif
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Mariner9
post Feb 21 2008, 06:54 AM
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QUOTE (mcaplinger @ Feb 20 2008, 10:04 PM) *
You'll forgive me if I call BS on this. A hallway conversation with somebody at a JPL open house? Media reporting? Are those figures with or without margin and reserves? Are they in real-year dollars? Do they include the launch vehicle? How about the RTG? How about foreign contributions? Is this through the end of the mission? What are the ops cost assumptions?

If you're going to condemn the whole project on the basis of cost overruns, you might want to really understand what the initial cost estimates were, what has actually been spent, and what is further costs are expected and authorized.


I don't really appreciate your flame. Someone asked where I came up with the 800 million, and I honestly replied it was an informal number given to me in a non-official setting. As for "include the launch vehicle?" ... yes, it was a number that was supposed to reflect total project costs.

As for "media reporting"..... Aviation Week is one of the most respected aerospace journals out there. Is it always dead on? No, but it used to be nicknamed "Aviation Leak", and foreign govenrments routinely used it as a source for intelligence gathering.

Last fall Alan Stern stated that JPL had come to headquarters with three different cost overruns. This latest one would be at least the fourth.

If you are going to slam me, then I would ask you to provide me with your source of information that there have not been serious cost overruns on MSL. Because my supposedly "BS" sources have turned out to be remarkably accurate from what I can see.



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mcaplinger
post Feb 21 2008, 07:16 AM
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QUOTE (Mariner9 @ Feb 20 2008, 10:54 PM) *
If you are going to slam me, then I would ask you to provide me with your source of information that there have not been serious cost overruns on MSL.

How about the annual NASA budgets from the beginning of the MSL project to now? It's a matter of public record how much has been spent to date.


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Mariner9
post Feb 21 2008, 07:57 AM
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NASA budgets are a matter of public record. That is indeed true. But making that statement is hardly what I would call a cost analysis.

Going back to Alan Stern stating that there had been three separate cost overruns on the MSL project, was he lying when he said it? Perhaps you could provide us with a year by year breakdown of the budget and show us all that Mr. Stern was completely mistaken.

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stevesliva
post Feb 21 2008, 03:26 PM
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Wasn't there surprise that the Mars budget was decreased a bit in the last NASA budget?
Does that mean that this was anticipated? Do the real numbers that result from this mean that there is effectively no decrease?

Did the budget reflect a number that was "what you wouldve gotten minus what you're going to need for MSL overruns?"
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mcaplinger
post Feb 21 2008, 06:42 PM
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QUOTE (Mariner9 @ Feb 20 2008, 11:57 PM) *
NASA budgets are a matter of public record. That is indeed true. But making that statement is hardly what I would call a cost analysis.

No, but since I'm kinda busy building instruments for MSL, I assumed you might take the time to look at them yourself.

Rather than debate this, though, I suggest you read pages Sci-153 through Sci-158 in the in the FY09 budget. On page Sci-156, we see that the current total development cost estimate for MSL is $1.035B, increased by $66.4M from the base year (2007) estimate. The total cost of $1.66B shown on Sci-153 includes formulation and operations costs. One would have to look at previous year budgets to assess how much this has increased, but I find it hard to believe that the mission ever cost the claimed $800M in an apples-to-apples comparison; budgets are all online at http://www.nasa.gov/news/budget/index.html


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Mariner9
post Feb 21 2008, 07:42 PM
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More power to you for unraveling those budget documents (seriously). I started reading through them and it drove me crazy trying to find the same summary information working backwards through the years, since the format changes from year to year.

So assuming that the 800 number was just something tossed out informally by someone who was not reading a budget projection at the time (which is what I've said all along anyway) ..... so.... uh....

Well, I stand corrected. Obviously the MSL project is not suffering a series of cost overruns. Alan Stern must have been mistaken when he claimed that multiple budget overruns have crossed his desk. All those articles in the press must have got it all wrong. And these latest reports of another overrun with the potential for tens of millions (I think up to 200 million was mentioned more than once) ..... must just be rumors.

Glad that we got that settled.

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elakdawalla
post Feb 21 2008, 08:02 PM
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Boys, boys, can we please take it down a notch? You're both understandably frustrated -- Mike because there's a history of blame games and finger-pointing in who's responsible for the overruns, some of which was unfairly laid at the feet of the instrument teams, and Mariner9 because of an instinctive worry that MSL is becoming The Mission That Ate The Mars Program and the feeling that the overruns are out of control. I'll second the remark that figuring out where the overruns are coming from is fiendishly complicated; at TPS during all the mayhem last fall we tried to gather information from multiple sources on who was running how much over budget and why and whose fault it was and in the end we couldn't get enough pieces to make it all add together. Yelling at each other in this thread isn't going to solve anything.

--Emily


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Mariner9
post Feb 21 2008, 08:29 PM
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Sorry, I almost posted a retraction (or a partial one anyway) right after the last post, but you beat me to the punch.

Yeah, I'm worried that the overruns will affect other projects. I'm sorry if anyone thought I was being holier than thou or pointing fingers. In fact, I have no idea what technical or program reasons have caused the specific overruns MSL has experienced, and I'm always impressed that any of these missions suceed in overcoming both the technical and bureaucractic hurtles thrown in their ways.

I'm under no illusions that this stuff is easy. I'm in the software industry, and god help any spacecraft that would get loaded with software that my group had anything to do with.......
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vjkane
post Feb 21 2008, 08:37 PM
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Emily, did Stern have anything to say on why the Mars budget was cut so much? I presume it was to fund all the other new starts (not a bad trade off in my opinion). But I'd be interested in the official explanation.

Also hoping there will be one of your excellent blog entries on what was said.



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