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Full Version: MSL Cost Caps and de-scoping - Sept '07
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Rakhir
Very bad news. sad.gif
It's certainly the best way to run the business of cost overruns but even if we are used to these kind of consequences, it's always sad to hear.

NASA cuts LANL sampler from next Mars rover
http://www.lamonitor.com/articles/2007/09/...news/news02.txt

Edit :
And also...
http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/generic/sto...p;channel=space
http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewsr.rss.sp....html?pid=25415

... removal of the Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) and the zoom capability on the mast camera...
... SAM and CheMin were cost-capped...
Jeff7
Wow, it sounds like they really stripped out a lot of instrumentation. In addition to those mentioned, other highlights:

"A rock-surface grinder will be replaced with a brushing tool..."


It seems like a real shame though.

I was looking forward to the zoom capability on the camera lens. Maybe they figure that the rover will have enough mobility to let it drive directly up to interesting targets? And it's not as though they'll be landing it any place with steep canyons or cliffs, where it would be completely unable to get a good look without a zoom lens.

I'm sure it will still launch with a good set of instruments to get the job done.
Sunspot
They might as well just re-launch an MER rover now.
SteveM
Sad to hear all these cuts but at least one of them, cutting out the zoom lens, might be a good thing. I've always felt that adding a zoom lens added unnecessary complexity to maintaining the scale calibration of images taken. Doing away with the zoom factor makes a whole range of image calculations simpler and more reliable.

I wait for comments from the imaging experts.

Steve
djellison
The loss of MARDI seems bizarre - because iirc - it's a MARDI derivative that turns into JunoCam. Will Juno have to find cash to get JunoCAM finished and onboard - or will it be dropped there as well?

The loss of zoom on MastCam sucks - because that takes away the potential for wide angle HDTV movies. I guess they'll re-design for a Pancam-similar resolution.

And dropping the grinder...well, surely Honeybee could build to print an MER RAT?

All that said - the vehicle is still far far and away a better platform for exploration than an MER - saying they should just launch one of those instead is an over-reaction.

Doug
slinted
If it doesn't make the payload, ChemCam will be surely missed, since it would have helped to bridge the "Burns Cliff" (and now Victoria Crater) gap (between what you can reach with the arm and what you can see with the cameras).

What is the meaning of "cost capping" SAM and CheMin? If they overrun any more, they'll be cut too?

edit: although, I'm probably getting way ahead of the game to think of it being cut. ChemCam has just had its funding halted, but with it already 90% done, I'm sure they'll find a way.
monitorlizard
If nothing else, these cuts will put "the fear of God" into every future proposer of a planetary mission. Maybe we'll stop seeing MESSENGER and Dawn- type cost overruns.

Still, it's a shame to see these cuts. If the PI's involved were allowed to be a little more creative in getting funding, they could go to private sources to make up the shortfall. The Keck Foundation put up tens of millions of dollars for their namesake telescope, they could pitch in a couple of million for ChemCam if they chose to. And I hear Tom Hanks is a space enthusiast. I'd contribute a few bucks to a funding drive. It could be done if the will was there, but probably won't.
mcaplinger
QUOTE (Steve @ Sep 16 2007, 02:25 PM) *
Sad to hear all these cuts but at least one of them, cutting out the zoom lens, might be a good thing. I've always felt that adding a zoom lens added unnecessary complexity to maintaining the scale calibration of images taken. Doing away with the zoom factor makes a whole range of image calculations simpler and more reliable.

Doing away with the camera altogether would make all those calculations even simpler, but that doesn't make it a good idea, does it? rolleyes.gif

I think we had the zoom calibration under control. I wouldn't count the zoom out quite yet.
Eluchil
It's a real shame about ChemCam, but NASA doesn't really have much choice unless Congress loosens the purse strings. The LA Monitor article suggests that alternate funding might come through to keep it on the payload, that would be ideal. As for the RAT descope, I thought that the grinder was to be integrated with the sample collection device so that would prevent using a MER RAT.
Stephen
QUOTE (Eluchil @ Sep 17 2007, 02:21 PM) *
It's a real shame about ChemCam, but NASA doesn't really have much choice unless Congress loosens the purse strings.

Isn't ChemCam the MSL equivalent of the MERs' Mini-TES: it is used to gain an idea of the composition of rocks and soils from a distance so as identify promising targets for the in-situ instruments. If it gets bumped what will be used to replace it? Or will there be no replacement, leaving the MSL team to decide which rocks to do in situ analysis on solely on the basis of what the cameras show them?

Incidentally, is it my imagination or has the remote instrumention page been pulled from the MSL site on JPL's Mars Program site? (The in-situ instrument one is still there.)

http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/techno...umentation.html

======
Stephen
algorimancer
QUOTE (mcaplinger @ Sep 16 2007, 09:14 PM) *
I think we had the zoom calibration under control. I wouldn't count the zoom out quite yet.


My own concerns with regard to the zoom function (as mentioned previously in a different thread) were due to the increased potential for mechanical failure. Obviously the camera model would be very dependent upon the zoom level, so a more recent unvoiced concern has been with getting good information as to the actual zoom level at the moment the image is acquired, and specifically with just how accurate and precise this data can be. Presumably if it is driven by some sort of stepper motor then we'll have rather good knowledge of the zoom state.

I really like the zoom function - I hope they manage to keep it.
Geographer
Is there a possibility other nations could fund ChemCam like they're doing with Phoenix? Or if not, could it be replaced by a cheaper instrument? Where will the weight savings go?
djellison
QUOTE (Geographer @ Sep 18 2007, 03:24 PM) *
Where will the weight savings go?


Back into the 'margin' column, to get swallowed by other systems I would have thought smile.gif

Doug
gpurcell
Well, there was Stern's talk about integrating sample collection capacity for a future sample return into this mission...wonder how much weight they would need to carve out for that.

Stern has asked a tiger team at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., to design sample caching gear to be installed on the Mars Science Laboratory. A small, hockey puck-sized device is being studied, seen as a "secondary payload" to be attached to the rover.

The final study results from the Ames team on the caching hardware are due by the end of July or early August, reported Chris McKay, a planetary scientist at the space agency field center who is helping to assess the feasibility of the Mars Science Laboratory add-on. Preliminary discussions also are under way with officials in the European Space Agency's ExoMars rover project to carry similar sample caching equipment on board that 2013 mission.


http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/0707...mplereturn.html
monitorlizard
If it turns out that ChemCam doesn't make it onto MSL, I think it will be the equivalent of when the Raman spectrometer was dropped from the MER rovers. I know Steve Squyres really regretted not being able to fly that instrument, and I'm sure it did hurt the science return, since it would have been the only instrument able to identify organic molecules in the MER payload. But look at what we did get from Spirit and Opportunity: a rich science return beyond what anyone anticipated. Most people don't think of MER as a compromised mission these days. I really hope ChemCam does fly in '09, but I have no doubt MSL will still be a spectacular mission if it doesn't.

It does seem fishy that Dr. Stern found the money to design and add a sample cache to MSL at the same time there wasn't enough to finish an already approved instrument.
SteveM
QUOTE (monitorlizard @ Sep 21 2007, 01:55 AM) *
It does seem fishy that Dr. Stern found the money to design and add a sample cache to MSL at the same time there wasn't enough to finish an already approved instrument.
Perfectly logical if you're an administrator whose success is measured by the number of missions you fly, not by their scientific return. Making a cache almost guarantees funding for a mission to go fetch the cache.

Steve
djellison
Or - if you look at it another way - having a cache eliminates the need for a scientific rover when doing sample return, and simply a simple rover to collect the sample and return it to the MAV.

Doug
gpurcell
Exactly. My comment wasn't to be snarky...I think there is a very good argument that the science return from a sample return mission that collects the best bits of MSL rocks would be greatly superior to a sample return mission that cannot be initiated until the samples are collected.
tglotch
I think that the total amount of money available is only part of the equation. The other part is the money allocated for each instrument and how much you're willing to allow overruns. By the looks of it ChemCam is pretty far over budget and finally Stern just said "Enough already." Don't get me wrong, I think losing ChemCam would be a tremendous blow to MSL--especially its remote sensing capabilities. But you have to at least give Stern credit for having a consistent philosophy when it comes to funding science with a limited pot of money. In some sense, he gets paid to make tough decisions.
mcaplinger
QUOTE (tglotch @ Sep 21 2007, 01:51 PM) *
By the looks of it ChemCam is pretty far over budget...

What's your source on that? All the news articles say is that there is a $75M overrun. It doesn't say where it is, and since $75M is more than the entire developmental budget for the payload (see the 2007 budget), do you think it's likely to be all ChemCam's overrun?

Disclaimer: this message is entirely based on data from public sources.
monitorlizard
"Making a cache almost guarantees funding for a mission to go fetch the cache."

Actually, I was looking at the opposite point of view, that a Mars sample return mission may never take place, due to its $2-3 billion cost, and the fact that there will always be a subgenre of the environmentalists who will say that even an infinitesmal risk of introducing Martian microbes to the Earth's biosphere is unacceptable under any circumstances
(I am not one of those people, BTW). I remember many years ago when the baseline was for an unmanned Mars mission to return its sample to Earth orbit, then be brought aboard the space station for initial analysis and a long quarantine as a safety enhancement. Because of the obvious higher cost of that scenario, nobody talks about it anymore. (I even remember a proposal to return the sample to a manned lunar base).

My point is that there will always be some opposition to an unmanned Mars sample return mission, and combined with the high price, it will be all too easy for policticians to keep pushing it off to the indefinite future. Putting a sample cache on MSL when there is no approved sample return mission could turn out to be a complete waste of precious weight and money the project obviously can't spare.
edstrick
Kieth Cowing, www.nasawatch.com has a bit of a rant on this whole subject and has invited comments. One particularly good line in his rant:

"Or should there be no rules - except the one where the project that screams the loudest gets the money? That's management by megaphone. "

oooh.. well put.
mcaplinger
QUOTE (edstrick @ Sep 22 2007, 01:42 AM) *
Kieth Cowing, www.nasawatch.com has a bit of a rant on this whole subject...

Again, I don't think there is enough publicly-available information on what the actual budget issues were for Cowing or anyone here to have an valid opinion. The press release just doesn't give enough detail and Cowing shows no signs of knowing anything more. Unfortunately, I can't comment further.
Mariner9
I agree that we really don't know much about what went on behind closed doors.

But to suggest that Alan Stern is "just and administrator" who only cares about how many missions he gets to fly seems unfair since the man is first and foremost a planetary scientist himself. Clearly this is a guy who wants to see as much scientific return as possible. I rather doubt he would be so simplistic as to just count the number of launches as a measure of sucess.

One story I'd like to share is a conversation I had several years ago. I was at the JPL Open house (probably in 2005, if memory serves). A friend and I were speaking to an engineer who was working on MSL. I asked him what the cost estimates were for the mission.

He said that they thought it would only cost the same as MER - aka 800 million. When I expressed surprise at such a low figure, he explained that among other factors there was going to be only one vehicle, hence only one launch vehicle, one set of tests, etc etc.

I was rather doubtful at the time. About a year later I read in Aviation Week that the mission was estimated at 1.2 billion. Then the year after that the number is 1.6 billion.

Now we have 1.7 billion.

At least one article I have read this week stated that this was the third cost overrun that had made it's way up to headquarters on this project. That certainly matches what I had been suspecting all along.

Given how tough some of this mission must be (particularly the Skycrane) I'm not surprised by one or two cost overruns. But I have a lot of sympathy for Mr. Stern's position when the third cost overrun showed up on his desk.
mcaplinger
QUOTE (Mariner9 @ Sep 22 2007, 01:47 PM) *
He said that they thought it would only cost the same as MER - aka 800 million...About a year later I read in Aviation Week that the mission was estimated at 1.2 billion. Then the year after that the number is 1.6 billion. Now we have 1.7 billion.

Unfortunately media reports are rarely if ever consistent about costs. Is that costs up to launch, or total cost of mission? Is that with or without the launch, ESA contributions, DOE costs for the RTG, etc? Sometimes they report one thing, sometimes something else. You can't base an opinion about how a mission's costs have evolved unless you have hard numbers, and I don't know of a public source for those for MSL.
helvick
Some commentary by Leonard David over at LiveScience.com featuring quotes from what appears to be a fairly annoyed Jim Bell.

It's an interesting dilemma for the administration though - eliminating budget overruns is a good thing but that probably will lead to some good missions being significantly reduced in scope or eliminated. I hate to think that MSL will end up being less capable than the MER's in terms of instrumentation but how else can all of the project teams be shown that the new budget management regime is serious?
mcaplinger
QUOTE (helvick @ Sep 23 2007, 12:26 PM) *
...how else can all of the project teams be shown that the new budget management regime is serious?

Just hypothetically, if you're going to impose hard cost caps on project elements (and I have nothing against the notion of hard caps), it's a good idea to tell the teams about this in advance, don't you think? Otherwise they might reasonably assume that the usual mechanism of project-carried margins for cost growth applied.
Stephen
QUOTE (monitorlizard @ Sep 21 2007, 03:55 PM) *
It does seem fishy that Dr. Stern found the money to design and add a sample cache to MSL at the same time there wasn't enough to finish an already approved instrument.

Yes, it must be a bit hard to lecture others on the How-Not-Make-Cost-Overruns circuit when one has only just added an added to the cost of an expensive project oneself; and for something that really had more to do with a future project (and saving costs on it) than with the project one has added the cost on to. Given that it generally costs NASA a few million dollars to design and build a space pen or a space toothbrush I wonder how many millions that sample cache set it back?

I imagine Stern didn't just pop in to his local Walmart and pick one up from the Discounted Space Items shelf. smile.gif

Hmm. You don't suppose...? rolleyes.gif

=====
Stephen
TheChemist
QUOTE (Stephen @ Sep 24 2007, 04:46 AM) *
......Given that it generally costs NASA a few million dollars to design and build a space pen or a space toothbrush I wonder how many millions that sample cache set it back?

I imagine Stern didn't just pop in to his local Walmart and pick one up from the Discounted Space Items shelf. smile.gif
=====
Stephen


According to the LiveScience story provided by Helvick upthread, the cache costs just 1m.
dvandorn
QUOTE (djellison @ Sep 23 2007, 12:25 PM) *
Perhaps the Falcon 9 will be able to step in for that scale of launch - it has a similar performance to that of the Delta II.

I really, really believe that statement needs to be in future tense, Doug, not present tense. Not a single Falcon has yet had a successful flight. Not even a Falcon 1, much less a Falcon 9.

I understand that some of us grew up being told about how wonderful the Saturn series was going to be, and watched as a $25 billion (in 1960's dollars) pile of chips was shoved to the center of the table, with the still-nonexistent Saturn V being one of the trump cards in our hand. But even then, even after some of the Saturn V technology (such as the S-IVB) was proven on earlier flights on smaller rockets, the capabilities of the Saturn V were *always* described in future tense, right up until it finally flew.

Until capabilities are demonstrated, they remain planned or virtual, and as such must be spoken of in the future tense. Please.

smile.gif

-the other Doug
stevesliva
QUOTE (helvick @ Sep 23 2007, 03:26 PM) *
Some commentary by Leonard David over at LiveScience.com featuring quotes from what appears to be a fairly annoyed Jim Bell.

I agree that at this point it appears to be "penny-wise pound-foolish" but I've got to wonder to what extent the people doing budget planning are getting equally annoyed at projects that win approval by first being too optimistic about costs. This could lead to more up-front budgeting for the craft and less for science, but perhaps in the long run the science would be better protected from craft-cost overruns.
mcaplinger
This Falcon stuff is all totally off-topic for MSL. Could we move it to some appropriate place, please?
djellison
You're right Mike - http://www.unmannedspaceflight.com/index.php?showtopic=4626

Meanwhile - how much of what we're reading about is spin, and how much of it is actual cuts. If you limit a project (and in this case I use the term to describe an instrument) budget to add additional margin, then surely you're doing a cut - because the point of margin is to get things finished. And which ever way you butter it - the loss of MARDI is a cut. We can pretend that HiRISE renders it redundent - but even as just an EPO tool, it would be gold dust. Can you imagine any news station in the world not showing it time after time?

I'm still trying to understand how this all comes together - and I can see Alan's problem with budgets - but I do worry that this may well be a pound-foolish situation. Bad analogy - you don't buy the best motherboard, the best hard drive, the best case, the best graphics card and amazing PSU and a Blu-Ray drive....and then fit a 30 CPU and drive a 14" CRT with it.

Doug
djellison
Trying to find some meat for this whole issue is like finding meat in a vegitarians fridge...

From http://spacespin.org/article.php/msss_msl
"The MastCam instrument will be developed and operated by Malin Space Science Systems, Inc., of San Diego, CA, under a $17.0 million (current year) contract, with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA. The MAHLI instrument will be developed and operated by MSSS under a similar $12.9 million contract. MARDI will cost $7.9 million and will also be developed by MSSS under JPL contract."

That's an early story from the first selection. Not sure how much the budgets will have changed since then - but it's a starting point.

Doug
mcaplinger
QUOTE (djellison @ Sep 25 2007, 02:05 PM) *
That's an early story from the first selection. Not sure how much the budgets will have changed since then - but it's a starting point.

I know this is our own press release, but those numbers sound high to me. I think as part of all three instruments being selected, the total cost was significantly lower.
algorimancer
That $1M figure for the sample collection basket seems on the high side. Seems like I could go off to the local walmart and find something suitable which could be epoxied to the frame for under $20. The usual sort of testing and validation seems unnecessary here.

I really hope the zoom feature can be preserved within the cost cap.
monitorlizard
This is from a recent MEPAG article titled "Mars Science Laboratory Project Changes Respond to Cost Increases, Keep Mars Program on Track":

MSL RESCOPED PAYLOAD SEPTEMBER 2007

MastCam // Zoom capability deleted and cost capped
MAHLI // Cost capped
MARDI // Instrument deleted
APXS // No change
ChemCam // No funding beyond FY'07 after a 77% cost growth
CheMin // Cost capped after a 160% cost growth
SAM // Cost capped after a 60% cost growth
RAD // No change
DAN // No change
REMS // No change

The change to the three imaging instruments is "After a combined 60% cost growth" to MastCam, MAHLI, and MARDI.

These are considerably worse overruns than I had imagined, but in fairness I would say that these are very ambitious instruments of types never flown before, so estimating their development costs must have been extremely difficult. I doubt any team deliberately low-balled their initial estimate.
MahFL
They Low Ball all the time or they would never get approved..
djellison
For those wondering - it's here : http://mepag.jpl.nasa.gov/msl.html

What I don't understand is this..

MC : " I think as part of all three instruments being selected, the total cost was significantly lower."

and

MEPAG : "after a combined 60% cost growth"

Now cost 'growth' seems a careful selection of words. Where was the genesis for this growth. Was it from the top asking for changes, or at the instrument level just getting the budget estimation wrong from the start? Something doesn't scan here.

Doug
mcaplinger
QUOTE (MahFL @ Sep 26 2007, 06:31 AM) *
They Low Ball all the time or they would never get approved..

The MSSS instruments on MGS, MPL. MCO, Odyssey, and MRO all came in at or under budget.
mcaplinger
QUOTE (monitorlizard @ Sep 26 2007, 06:12 AM) *
The change to the three imaging instruments is "After a combined 60% cost growth" to MastCam, MAHLI, and MARDI.
These are considerably worse overruns than I had imagined...

At best this is a vast oversimplification of how and why costs evolved. I think you can expect some public discussion of this in the near future.
ustrax
I was told by one of the participants in the 2nd MSL workshop that all the PI's in the mission requested the return of ChemCam...
Let's see in what this results...
ustrax
QUOTE (slinted @ Sep 16 2007, 11:33 PM) *
If it doesn't make the payload, ChemCam will be surely missed, since it would have helped to bridge the "Burns Cliff" (and now Victoria Crater) gap (between what you can reach with the arm and what you can see with the cameras).


Sure it will, sure will be a great loss, although scientists are confident and fighting for having it back on MSL.
According to Vicky Hamilton (one of the scientists at the 2nd MSL workshop) there will be significant scientific loss and where this will be more significant in measuring light elements and getting chemical analyses from underneath any coatings that are present on the rocks at the landing site.
Still according to her a major loss will occur operationally if MSL lacks the ability to do chemical remote sensing, as this will mean that the team has to decide where to go and which rocks to analyze based only on images, with little ability to target a route based on the differences in composition between rocks and soils in the area.
She makes a special reference to the Mini-TES on the MER mission that has demonstrated how important it is, fo a mission like MSL, to have this capability for operations as well as science. (from spacEurope)
nprev
Great article, Rui. smile.gif

It's a damn shame that projects (not just space!) always, always require this sort of contention & debate to preserve original requirements. However, if the PIs present a unified front, they most likely will prevail. Question then becomes where the trade-off happens given that performance is preserved: cost or schedule? Hate to say it, but in the current climate I could see MSL slipping to the 2011 launch window in lieu of throwing more money at it...
ustrax
QUOTE (nprev @ Oct 23 2007, 03:26 PM) *
Great article, Rui. smile.gif

It's a damn shame that projects (not just space!) always, always require this sort of contention & debate to preserve original requirements. However, if the PIs present a unified front, they most likely will prevail. Question then becomes where the trade-off happens given that performance is preserved: cost or schedule? Hate to say it, but in the current climate I could see MSL slipping to the 2011 launch window in lieu of throwing more money at it...


Thanks, there's more tomorrow... wink.gif

I don't see MSL being postponed until 2011...Everyone with I had the chance to exchange words are confident that ChemCam will be back...if not, as the guest for tomorrow puts it, sending MSL, that is being built as a super rover, it would be a shame to "send it hobbled by blindness to the mineral signatures"...

I'm optimistic...but that's not new... rolleyes.gif
Mariner9
I can't find the link now, but I've seen a table that showed the insturmentation suite on MSL, and listed for each one the percentage cost overrun.

Many of the instruments were signifigantly over budget. Some by 60-70 percent and more.

Of course the scientists on the project want Chem Cam back, and I sympathize. I hope it is restored.

But consider, this is not the first, nor second, cost overrun on MSL that has made it's way to headquaters. It is the third. And given how late in the game we are, the managers on MSL had to have seen this coming a while ago.

Space missions are tough, and I don't want to play armchair quarterback. MSL has a lot of challenges, and some new technolgies. That can be a real bear to manage and know how much it's going to cost.

But how many cost overruns is a mission supposed to have before someone in charge has to stay "enough" ? How much extra money does MSL get at the expense of some other project that is staying within budget? Isn't that rewarding a project that is in trouble, by punishing ones that are not?

It was a tough call for Alan Stern. I don't envy him the job.
monitorlizard
I don't think anyone at NASA, including Alan Stern, expects MSL to launch without ChemCam. But NASA is playing a high stakes game of bluff expecting someone else to come in and pay for its overrun. France is a major partner on the instrument. What if they say "we don't have any extra money either"? Everyone can live with all of the other MSL descopes, but losing ChemCam would be a major blow to the science return of the mission.

I thought NASA was trying to keep its international partners happy. This is not the way to do it.
nprev
Not to play PM here, but what's causing the overruns? Is it technology development/risk alone, or is there some sort of management issue? (Usually the default position when inquiries begin, but I dislike taking that view, esp. when considering UMSF & developmental articles).
stevesliva
QUOTE (monitorlizard @ Oct 23 2007, 03:21 PM) *
But NASA is playing a high stakes game of bluff expecting someone else to come in and pay for its overrun.

I believe that the better term for NASA stance is "call." The bluff being the budgeted amount for the instrument. Having been called, ChemCam is deciding whether to raise or fold. Maybe you're right and they'll hit a better hand on what France deals them.
mcaplinger
QUOTE (Mariner9 @ Oct 23 2007, 10:38 AM) *
I can't find the link now, but I've seen a table that showed the insturmentation suite on MSL, and listed for each one the percentage cost overrun.

Many of the instruments were signifigantly over budget. Some by 60-70 percent and more.

The link is in post 39 of this thread.

I would dispute the accuracy of the cost figures in that table based on what I know, but you'd have to take that up with MEPAG.
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