Report: NASA’s Mars sample mission is unrealistic

The findings of an independent review panel indicate that NASA’s quest to return samples from Mars is challenging and appears impossible to achieve under current cost and timeline projections.

NASA released the final a report On Thursday, it announced that it has formed its own team to review the Mars Sample Return (MSR) report and make a recommendation on a path forward for the mission by the second quarter of 2024. Meanwhile, the space agency has paused its plans to confirm an official mission cost and timeline.

The report refers to the mission as a “highly constrained and challenging campaign,” with “unrealistic budget and timeline expectations from the beginning.”

Mars sample return It is one of the most complex missions the space agency has ever attempted, as it involves a fleet of spacecraft, including an orbiter, a lander, two helicopters and a rocket, that will be assembled and sent to the Red Planet by 2028. However, it states that there There is a “close to zero probability” that the lander and orbiter will be ready for launch in 2028. Instead, the review board suggests targeting launch readiness in 2030 instead.

NASA has been struggling to manage the budget and timeline for a Mars sample return mission. The space agency established an independent review board in May “to evaluate technical, cost, and schedule plans before confirming the mission design,” NASA wrote.

“Independent review boards, like the one we commissioned for Mars Sample Return, help review whether we are on track to achieve our mission goals within the appropriate budget,” Sandra Connelly, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for science, said in a statement.

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The space agency has not yet announced an official estimate of the cost of the sample return mission. In 2020, NASA and the European Space Agency estimated The mission will require at least $7 billion in total but there are concerns it will go over budget. The new report indicates that the full mission life cycle cost will likely range between $8 billion and $11 billion.

The mission received $822.3 million in its 2023 spending bill, and NASA requested $949.3 million for its Mars sample return project. Budget proposal for 2024. In April, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson unveiled a Mars sample return mission It needs an additional $250 million in the current fiscal yearplus another $250 million in 2024, in order to stay on track for a 2028 launch.

In its proposed 2024 budget for NASA, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee He directed the space agency to submit an annual funding filing for the MSR Within the $5.3 billion life-cycle cost outlined in the 2022 Planetary Science Decadal Survey. If NASA can’t do this, it could face canceling the mission, the subcommittee wrote in its July report.

“The Mars Sample Return program is a very complex program and campaign with many parallel developments, interfaces and complexities,” Orlando Figueroa, chair of the independent review board, said in a statement. “The development of this historic effort follows many decades of strategic investment.”

The independent review board highlighted the importance of the Mars sample return as a strategic step within the space agency’s Mars exploration programme, which aims to one day land humans on Mars. Rock samples currently being collected by the Perseverance rover may contain clues about whether Mars once hosted some form of life, which would ultimately answer the question of whether life exists beyond Earth.

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In fact, the report urges NASA to better communicate the importance of the sample return mission. “The social, technological and scientific importance of MSR makes it a mission of paramount importance to NASA’s long-term exploration strategy, and this is not being communicated consistently and clearly with the public and stakeholders,” the report said. “A successful MSR campaign will revolutionize our understanding of the history of Mars, the solar system, and the possibility of life beyond Earth.”

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