The Elements of Innovation Discovered

NASA seeks solutions for Mars samples

Metal Tech News - April 15, 2024

Space Agency finds costs and timeframe of previous plan too high, seeks public and private sector innovation to get samples to Earth.

In response to Perseverance's successful sample collection efforts, a discussion on returning these samples of Martian geology and potential signs of life back to Earth has been revisited.

During a teleconference held early this morning, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration outlined its recommendations regarding a path forward for the Mars Sample Return program.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Nicky Fox, the associate administrator for the science mission directorate at NASA headquarters in Washinton, shared the agency's next steps to get the samples home.

Of course, the space agency planned to return the samples to Earth once they were retrieved by Perseverance. However, the price tag and timeline for this original plan have led NASA to seek new, innovative solutions.

"Mars Sample Return will be one of the most complex missions NASA has ever undertaken," said Nelson. "The bottom line is, an $11 billion budget is too expensive, and a 2040 return date is too far away."

Over the last quarter century, NASA has been systematic in its effort to determine Mars's early history and how this can help mankind understand the formation and evolution of habitable worlds, including Earth.

As part of that effort, Mars Sample Return has been a long-term goal of international planetary exploration.

"Safely landing and collecting the samples, launching a rocket with the samples off another planet – which has never been done before – and safely transporting the samples more than 33 million miles back to Earth is no small task," added the administrator. "We need to look outside the box to find a way ahead that is both affordable and returns samples in a reasonable timeframe."

As part of the teleconference, the agency shared its response to an independent review board report finalized last September. This included an updated mission design with reduced complexity; improved resiliency; risk posture; stronger accountability and coordination; and an overall budget likely in the $8 to $11 billion range.

Given the Fiscal Year 2025 budget and anticipated constraints, as well as the need to maintain a balanced science portfolio, the current mission design will return samples in 2040 – this is where the current determination on cost and timeframe come into play – thus leading NASA to seek new solutions.

"NASA does visionary science – and returning diverse, scientifically-relevant samples from Mars is a key priority," said Fox. "To organize a mission at this level of complexity, we employ decades of lessons on how to run a large mission, including incorporating the input we get from conducting independent reviews."

To achieve the ambitious goal of returning the key samples to Earth earlier and at a lower cost, the agency is asking the NASA community to collaborate on developing a revised plan that leverages innovation and proven technology.

Additionally, NASA will soon solicit architecture proposals from industry that could return samples in the 2030s and lower cost, risk, and mission complexity.

"Our next steps will position us to bring this transformational mission forward and deliver revolutionary science from Mars – providing critical new insights into the origins and evolution of Mars, our solar system, and life on Earth," finished Fox.

 

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