Tag Archives: Mars 2020

Mars2020 budget overruns threatening other missions

The significant budget overruns for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, now expected to exceed a billion dollars, could now pose a threat to other planetary projects.

The cost of Mars 2020 has been growing for a while. The initial proposed cost for the rover, when the mission was announced in 2012, was $1.5 billion. Six years on, a 2018 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report showed that the cost had soared to $2.46 billion. And in NASA’s latest budget, the overrun looks set to grow by as much as 15% (or about another $360 million) beyond that last 2018 estimate, although the latest numbers are yet to be confirmed.

The irony is that Mars 2020 was established by the Obama administration as part of its effort to significantly cut back on NASA’s entire planetary program. The idea was to save money by simply rebuilding Curiosity.

As is typical for these projects, the scientists pushed for cutting edge instruments, and it is these instruments that have caused the overages. Meanwhile, many of those 2012 cuts pushed by Obama never happened, or were simply funneled into different planetary projects that were approved later.

No one who is involved in any way with the U.S. government today knows anything about keeping their effort on budget and on time. No one. And the result is increasing debt and what will certainly be bankruptcy for everyone, at some point, thus causing everything to shut down.

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Mars helicopter completes first test flight

The small helicopter that will fly autonomously as part of the Mars 2020 rover mission has successfully completed its first test flights here on Earth.

“We only required a 2-inch (5-centimeter) hover to obtain all the data sets needed to confirm that our Mars helicopter flies autonomously as designed in a thin Mars-like atmosphere; there was no need to go higher. It was a heck of a first flight,” [said Teddy Tzanetos, test conductor for the Mars Helicopter at JPL.]

The Mars Helicopter’s first flight was followed up by a second in the vacuum chamber the following day. Logging a grand total of one minute of flight time at an altitude of 2 inches (5 centimeters), more than 1,500 individual pieces of carbon fiber, flight-grade aluminum, silicon, copper, foil and foam have proven that they can work together as a cohesive unit.

This helicopter drone is a technology experiment, more focused on testing helicopter flying on Mars that doing science. If it proves to work, it will open up a whole new unmanned option for exploring the Martian surface. Imagine a helicopter that takes short hops from point to point. It will be able to reach locations a rover never could, and do it faster.

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Cost for Mars 2020 rover up 15%

Because of cost overruns in building three instruments for the Mars 2020 rover, its total budget will rise by 15%, forcing NASA to trim budgets elsewhere in its planetary program.

There are small efficiencies to be gained internally in Mars 2020, Glaze says, which, like its predecessor Curiosity, is being developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. Some work can be postponed, some timelines tightened; the end of the Opportunity rover, which expired late last year on Mars, will help. But it is expected the costs will largely be borne by trims to the operations of existing Mars missions and funds the agency sets aside for future missions, including the return of the rock samples that Mars 2020 will collect. “We tried to spread it so no one is feeling all of the pain,” Glaze says.

For a government program costing almost $2.5 billion, this overage is remarkably small. What is more significant is that the rover appears on schedule for launch in July 2020.

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NASA picks Mars 2020 landing site: Jezero Crater

Jezero Crater

NASA has picked Jezero Crater has the landing site for its as yet unnamed 2020 Mars rover.

Jezero Crater is located on the western edge of Isidis Planitia, a giant impact basin just north of the Martian equator. Western Isidis presents some of the oldest and most scientifically interesting landscapes Mars has to offer. Mission scientists believe the 28-mile-wide (45-kilometer) crater, once home to an ancient river delta, could have collected and preserved ancient organic molecules and other potential signs of microbial life from the water and sediments that flowed into the crater billions of years ago.

Jezero Crater’s ancient lake-delta system offers many promising sampling targets of at least five different kinds of rock, including clays and carbonates that have high potential to preserve signatures of past life. In addition, the material carried into the delta from a large watershed may contain a wide variety of minerals from inside and outside the crater.

The geologic diversity that makes Jezero so appealing to Mars 2020 scientists also makes it a challenge for the team’s entry, descent and landing (EDL) engineers. Along with the massive nearby river delta and small crater impacts, the site contains numerous boulders and rocks to the east, cliffs to the west, and depressions filled with aeolian bedforms (wind-derived ripples in sand that could trap a rover) in several locations.

The red dot on the map of Mars below shows this location. The blue dot is Gale Crater where Curiosity landed. The purple dot is the landing site for the European ExoMars rover. The yellow dot is where Opportunity has been roving, and the black dot is Spirit’s location.
» Read more

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Mars 2020 gets fourth candidate landing site

The science team for the next American Mars rover, Mars 2020, has decided to consider a fourth candidate landing site, located between two other candidate sites.

The site has been dubbed “Midway,” because it’s roughly halfway between two other candidate landing locations — Jezero delta and Northeast Syrtis. The third previously identified candidate is the Columbia Hills region of Gusev Crater, which NASA’s now-defunct Spirit rover explored after touching down in January 2004.

Jezero, Northeast Syrtis and Columbia Hills were selected as finalists at the third 2020 rover landing site workshop, which was held in February 2017.

Midway has the same morphologic units as Northeast Syrtis and is relatively close to Jezero, explained John Mustard, a professor in the Department of Earth Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. “It has emerged from Mars 2020 science team members I believe brainstorming on possibly getting two birds with one rover,” Mustard told Inside Outer Space.

Based on this story, it sounds to me as this new site has emerged as the favorite. It would put the rover down in the transition zone between Mars’s northern low plains and its southern highlands, an area where evidence of the receding shoreline of any past intermittent ocean might exist. It would also allow it to study geology similar to two previous candidate sites.

One problem they may have is that this candidate site has not yet been photographed in detail by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s (MRO) high resolution camera, as have the other sites. They will need to get time on MRO to do this in order to make sure this site is acceptable.

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Heat shield for 2020 Mars rover cracks during testing

The heat shield to be used during landing by the U.S.’s 2020 Mars rover cracked during recent testing.

The heat shield’s structural damage, located near the shield’s outer edge, happened during a weeklong test at the Denver facility of contractor Lockheed Martin Space, according to a NASA statement released Thursday (April 26). The test was intended to subject the heat shield to forces about 20 percent greater than those it will experience when it hits the Martian atmosphere for entry, descent and landing operations.

The Mars 2020 team found the fracture on April 12. Mission management at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will work with Lockheed Martin to lead an examination of the cause of the crack and to decide if any design changes should be made, NASA officials said in the statement.

They do not expect this issue to cause them to miss the 2020 launch window. However, it is astonishing that the heat shield should fail in this manner. First, to save development costs this rover was essentially a rebuild of Curiosity. The new heat shield should have been the same design, and thus should have already been proven capable of surviving this test. Second, Lockheed Martin has been making heat shields of all kinds for decades. This is not cutting edge technology.

Third, note that Lockheed Martin is building Orion, and it also experienced cracks in the capsule’s structure (not its heat shield) during manufacture and testing.

Overall, these facts suggest that some fundamental manufacturing error has occurred, and that there might also be a quality control problem at Lockheed Martin.

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NASA completes first high altitude supersonic test of Mars 2020 rover parachute

NASA successfully completed its first high altitude supersonic test of the parachute that the Mars 2020 rover will use as part of its landing operation.

The rocket carried the payload as high as about 32 miles (51 kilometers). Forty-two seconds later, at an altitude of 26 miles (42 kilometers) and a velocity of 1.8 times the speed of sound, the test conditions were met and the Mars parachute successfully deployed. Thirty-five minutes after launch, ASPIRE splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean about 34 miles (54 kilometers) southeast of Wallops Island. “Everything went according to plan or better than planned,” said Clark. “We not only proved that we could get our payload to the correct altitude and velocity conditions to best mimic a parachute deployment in the Martian atmosphere, but as an added bonus, we got to see our parachute in action as well.”

The parachute tested during this first flight was almost an exact copy of the parachute used to land NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory successfully on the Red Planet in 2012. Future tests will evaluate the performance of a strengthened parachute that could also be used in future Mars missions. The Mars 2020 team will use data from these tests to finalize the design for its mission.

There is a nice video of this test flight at the link.

At first glance one wonders why they need to do these tests, since the parachute system is going to be almost identical to the one used by Curiosity in 2012, and that worked perfectly. However, they really aren’t testing the parachute but the system to fly and test future parachutes at the high altitudes that mimic Martian conditions. With this test technology working and available, it will make it possible to test all kinds of parachute designs for use on Mars, even Rogollo hang-glider chutes.

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