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NASA begins re-evaluating Mars sample return architecture


NASA has begun work to review its approach to returning samples from Mars after an independent review concluded that the current Mars Sample Return (MSR) architecture has an “unrealistic” budget and schedule.

Sandra Connelly, NASA’s deputy administrator for science, said at an Oct. 20 meeting of the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) advisory committee that the agency is forming a team to implement the independent oversight board’s recommendations. IRB) in September.

This independent review found that there was “almost zero chance” that the next major MSR elements – the sampling lander and the Earth-return orbiter – would be ready for launch as planned in 2027 and 2028. MSR costs are estimated to be in the range of $8 billion to $11 billion, well above previous NASA estimates.

“We want to make sure we take the findings and recommendations into account so that we can structure this program to be successful and do it within a balanced budget,” Connelly said.

He leads a group called the MSR IRB Response Team (MIRT) that will develop a revised architecture for returning samples from Mars. The group, which held its inaugural meeting on October 19, consists of five subcommittees that address a variety of technical, scientific, programmatic and budgetary issues related to the program.

He said MIRT will complete its work by the end of March and deliver an updated MSR architecture. Some of that work had begun even before the team started: A team has been analyzing the architecture for the past three to four weeks, said Jeff Gramling, MSR director at NASA Headquarters.

The plan he outlined called for selecting two or three alternative architectures for further study, which could include an independent cost estimate this fall. As for the agency’s choice of new architecture, he said the goal is to pass a validation review by the end of 2024, at which time NASA will make formal commitments on the program’s cost and schedule. NASA had previously planned to conduct validation testing of the MSR this fall.

Another challenge to this effort is uncertainty about how much funding will be available for MSRs in fiscal years 2024 and 2025 during the effort, which is part of the broader debate about agency funding. “We don’t know yet what the 24th allocation will be, so we’ll have to slow down a little bit to accommodate the 24th as we pause and pull back,” he said.

He did not specify alternative approaches to MSR analyzed. While the IRB report lists some that would delay lander and orbiter launches until the 2030s, it also includes flight-proven technologies such as a “sky crane” landing approach that would retrieve samples cached by Perseverance and a rover based on the Mars Reconnaissance Rover. . all terrain vehicle

According to agency representatives, there are no plans to build an MSR from scratch, starting with a completely new design. “We are trying to make the most of the work we have done to date, but we are also taking a step back and looking for ways to reduce costs and increase sustainability,” Gramling said.

The review of alternative architectures will focus on various measures of benefit, including total and annual costs, technical issues, and the scientific merit of the revised mission. One example he gave involved reducing the number of samples returned by allowing the use of a smaller Orbital Sample (OS), the container in which they will be stored. He noted that a smaller operating system could reduce the cost and complexity of the overall architecture.

Earlier in the meeting, Orlando Figueroa, who chairs the IRB, described the immaturity of the operating system design as a major problem for MSR. The operating system will be launched into orbit by the Mars Ascent Vehicle rocket and retrieved by the Orbiter returning to Earth, affecting the design of both. “It is the element that ties all the components of the architecture together,” he said.

NASA officials said they will work with the European Space Agency, which is responsible for the Earth-Return Orbiter and the robotic sample transfer arm. “Our ESA partners are very interested in all this and are also sharing their thoughts and ideas,” Gremling said. said. Source

Source: Port Altele

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