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Should MSL be canceled?
PhilHorzempa
post Nov 5 2009, 11:55 PM
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The MSL mission needs to be canceled. As it now stands, this mission is causing chaos in both the Mars Exploration Program budget, and NASA's overall Planetary budget. It seems that everytime the MSL gets into yet another fix, NASA buckles to the pressure and gives it more funds. This hemorrhaging needs to stop.
I propose that the MSL spacecraft be put in bonded storage, as was done with the Mars 2001 Lander. From what I could find out, this multi-year storage only cost $250,000. Yes, only a quarter of a million dollars. As we all know, this craft eventually flew as the Phoenix lander. The beauty of putting the 2001 Lander in storage was that this allowed funds to flow to the MER rovers and to MRO. When funds later became available through the Mars Scout Program, the lander was waiting to be used.
If the MSL is put into storage, then NASA can re-program the funding that is now being used to finance the standing army at JPL for other approved missions. This would remove the threat from the Maven Mars Orbiter, Juno, Grail, as well as the Mars Science Orbiter. There is not enough money in NASA's Planetary budget to both support continued preparation of MSL and all of the other missions listed above. I doubt that the Congress or the White House will suddenly open the funding coffers for NASA's planetary program in order to fix it. NASA needs to do what it can with the funds that it has.
This means putting MSL in storage until it can be fit back into the Planetary budget, probably in about 2016. With advanced planning, placing MSL back into an orderly progression farther down the budget cycle, will allow NASA to remove its disruptive effects on near-term missions. This worked in the case of the Mars 2001 Lander/Phoenix case. Pushing the launch of the 2001 Lander to a window 6 years down the road allowed the Mars Program to get its act together and proceed in an orderly fashion.
The Mars Program is now in the same type of mess that it faced in the year 2000. I propose that canceling the MSL and resurrecting it later is the most logical course for NASA to take in order to get the Mars Exploration Program and the rest of the Planetary Program back onto a fiscally sustainable course. I welcome comments from one and all.
Phil Horzempa

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Phil Stooke
post Nov 6 2009, 02:13 AM
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That's the single most appalling idea I've ever heard. Unfortunately it's also very sensible.

Phil


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briv1016
post Nov 6 2009, 05:27 AM
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Considering the money already spent on the design and building of the rover, the amount of money saved by mothballing MSL now is not worth the multi year delay that would reverberate throughout the Mars program. A lot of the technologies developed for MSL will feed forward to MAX-C and MSR. Almost all technically induced cost overruns have already been accounted for.

(I'm aware of the sunken money fallacy; but it doesn’t really apply this late in the game.)


Edit: I ran the numbers in the FY2010 budget and as of the end of FY2009 (October 1st) 81% of the Formulation and Development costs have already been spent.
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Ant103
post Nov 6 2009, 10:00 AM
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Absolutely NOT !


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djellison
post Nov 6 2009, 10:30 AM
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QUOTE (PhilHorzempa @ Nov 5 2009, 11:55 PM) *
There is not enough money in NASA's Planetary budget to both support continued preparation of MSL and all of the other missions listed above.


And how do you propose to save money by delaying MSL?

I see no evidence that the '01 lander was cancelled to fund MRO and MER. Indeed, when the '01 lander was cancelled, MRO and MER were not even formal proposals. It was cancelled for engineering reasons, not budgetary reasons. The launch of the '01 lander wasn't delayed 6 years to save money for other missions. The '01 lander was CANCELLED. Full stop. And by the time it was reborn as Phoenix the cost had jumped massively. The total 2001 budget for MODY and 2001 Lander at the time of the 2001 lander cancellation was $283M.

Before cancellation - figures suggest the '01 lander had cost $100M.

Phoenix was supposed to be a $325M cost capped scout. Then $386M. Then $420M.

Add the $100M already spent - and Phoenix was a $520M mission. Take half the orig '01 budget, $142M, and - according to your supposition that it was delayed to get things in order and rectify budget problems - it ended up costing nearly 4x more than that. So on what basis do you think delaying MSL will make it any cheaper or free up any money?

It will inevitably cost more. The logical path at this point is to get it off the ground at the earliest safe opportunity, because once it's off the ground, you're spending money on flight operations, not ATLO, and they are a lot cheaper. Also - I do not see evidence that Juno, Maven and Grail are suffering greatly because of MSL. Indeed - it has been stated that:

QUOTE
The other major planetary mission in development (Juno Jupiter mission (2011 launch), lunar GRAIL mission (2011 launch), and the Mars MAVEN mission(2013 launch)) would proceed as planned.


Furthermore - heritage from the MSL design is required for missions already planned in the 2016+ time frame. Delaying MSL until that time frame would push those missions off into mid 2020's and beyond. It has been conceded that the Mars Program can not continue like it is. Hence the NASA/ESA partnership for future missions. But to get to that place, MSL needs to go first so that a clean interface (MSL derived descent stage to payload) can be presented for international cooperation.

MSL is massively, massively expensive and massively massively over budget. It should have been considered a flagship class mission from day 1. It needs a full independent review conducted by outsiders from industry and other NASA centres to establish how and why it's budget was so wrong at the beginning, after it's launched.

It's going to cost $XM to finish it from now. It's going to cost $XM + some quite large yet probably unknown amount that will, inevitably, suffer it's own budget creep to delay. Delaying it 5 years would:

  • Not save money. It would cost more.
  • Not positively impact other missions, as more money would, in total, be spent.
  • Negatively impact, massively, the 2016+ Mars program
  • Put at risk the NASA/ESA partnership for Mars exploration in that time frame.
  • Reduce the likelihood of MODY, MRO and MEX being available for relay.



Before continuing, I would urge you to review the forum rules, especially regarding politics which technically, your first post breaks. But this IS an interesting discussion, so I'll let that go - but the admin team is keeping a close eye on this thread. As I've now posted in it - I'll leave moderation and administration of this thread entirely in EGD and A0's hands to avoid accusations of administrative bullying or bias.
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Fran Ontanaya
post Nov 6 2009, 10:47 AM
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Curiosity's fuel would make quite expensive mothballs, since all the other missions are solar.


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MahFL
post Nov 6 2009, 04:07 PM
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NO. nearly all missions cost more than origianlly budgetted. Also if MSL is stored, something could happen down the line to cancel other missions, and in hindsight we could say "Should have launched MSL ".
Besides it's got a freaking laser !
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nprev
post Nov 6 2009, 07:35 PM
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The fuel is a major point; Pu-238 is not readily available & of course perishable. I think that they've got to press on & do whatever it takes to make the 2011 launch (which is actually not at all an unusual situation for planetary missions, unfortunately.)


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ugordan
post Nov 6 2009, 07:44 PM
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QUOTE (MahFL @ Nov 6 2009, 05:07 PM) *
nearly all missions cost more than origianlly budgetted.

That's because this culture of cost overruns has become entrenched in everyone's mind. Why should I present accurate costs for a mission proposal when:
a ) the competing teams' proposals will all deliberately underestimate their cost allowing them to win over me due to
b ) realizing cost overruns are "OK" and everyone does them and gets away with it afterward. Because "nearly all missions cost more" so this vicious circle is closed.

This mindset has got to go away sometime. Otherwise repercusions should be paid by the specific program - in this case Mars exploration programs. You cannot have your cake and eat it. I simply do not want to see outer planet flagships robbed of funds and continuously pushed back into the future just because present and past projects consume everything.


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PhilHorzempa
post Nov 6 2009, 09:46 PM
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My suggestion that MSL be cancelled does not mean that this will save money. It will mean that MSL will become more expensive. However, I believe that the MSL mission will become more expensive whether it is cancelled (delayed) or not. The main reason that I am pulling for cancellation is to prevent MSL from harming other Planetary missions. Perhaps MSL is not now causing other missions to be delayed or cancelled. However, the trend of MSL cost growth suggests that MSL will be soon start to disrupt those other programs. I am not against Mars exploration. I am a big fan of Mars. However, the Mars community, specifically, the MSL team, has brought this on themselves, and they alone should suffer the consequences. One other mission that will be threatened is the New Frontiers-3 selection. I, for one, do not want that mission delayed anymore, whatever the choice.
As for the cancellation of Mars 2001 Lander, this action did help the MER and MRO missions to proceed. Can you imagine of NASA had not cancelled the 2001 Lander and proceeded to launch it in 2001, or 2003. As has been stated, the Phoenix/2001 Lander cost about another $400 million to get it flight ready and to fix all of the defects and shortcomings listed by the MPL Investigation Board. That $400 million would have had to come out of somewhere, and most likely would have meant delays in launch for MER and MRO missions.
Yes, cancelling MSL will cost more money, but I believe that if we can delay that budget "hit" for about 6 years, then missions already in the pipeline can proceed. Then, by 2016, NASA can program Mars funds to brng MSL out of storage. This will mean a delay in the MAX-C rover and MSR missions. However, delay is a price that the Mars community must pay. That burden should not be put on other non-Mars programs.
Phil H.
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djellison
post Nov 6 2009, 10:01 PM
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QUOTE (PhilHorzempa @ Nov 6 2009, 09:46 PM) *
, then missions already in the pipeline can proceed.


They already can proceed, as I stated. You're looking to solve a problem that doesn't yet exist. What's the least possible impact to all programs? Delay one or two missions by a year or two. Or delay MSL half a decade? It's a no brainer.

Your 2001 / Phoenix history is wrong. 2001 was flat out cancelled. Not delayed. Cancelled. Drawing an analogy from that to how a half decade delay might 'help' the Mars program is misleading and dishonest.

The repercussions of further delay would make any current problems WORSE, not better. It would involve spending MORE money. It would involve delaying an entire program and risk killing international cooperation in that program. It is not the best course of action in this case.

Furthermore - why should other mission in the Mars program suffer more than other missions full stop? Why should Maven, for example, suffer because of MSL. Spread the pain across as many programs as possible so the impact is a small as possible.

MSL is too close to being ready, and too important (not to mention the issues I mentioned and others mentioned, relay, follow on costs, RTG decay, risk of loss of relay capacity) to delay another 5 years. It would be catastrophically damaging.

MSL needs to go, ASAP. Then we need to sit back and figure out why it cost so much more than forecast.
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Drkskywxlt
post Nov 6 2009, 11:01 PM
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Perhaps a way to announce to the whole community that the overruns were not acceptable and won't be repeated is to "punish" JPL in the future by opening the Mars program to competitive mission selections. Let APL, Goddard and other groups have equal footing with JPL in future mission selections instead of giving JPL the virtually blank check it's had on MSL.
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ElkGroveDan
post Nov 6 2009, 11:23 PM
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I think that everything that can be said about this has been said. So in the interests of moving on, we'll leave the discussion up and visible for reference, but it will now be closed to further commentary.


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