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New Details on the 2020 Mars Rover

Posted by Casey Dreier

10-01-2013 10:23 CST

Topics: Future Mission Concepts, Mars, Mars 2020

The new 2020 Mars Rover will achieve its cost savings by using $200 million worth of flight-ready equipment left over from the Curiosity rover, said Jim Green, Director of the Planetary Science division within NASA. He spoke today at the Outer Planets Assessment Group meeting in Atlanta, GA.

Dr. Green did not specify which components this included, but John Grunsfeld, Director of NASA's overall science division said that the MMRTG (Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator) exists as a spare from the Curiosity rover when he announced the new mission in December.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory also went through great effort to maintain updated schematics and detailed engineering and testing notes when constructing Curiosity so that they could readily build another model of the rover. While there will be differences in scientific instruments and the engineering required to support them, the entire landing system (including the sky crane and heat shield) and rover chassis can essentially be recreated without any additional engineering or research. This reduces overall technical risk for the mission, which allows for a smaller emergency reserve as part of its budget.

The 2020 Mars rover is designed to fit within a $1.5 billion budget, about $1 billion less than the Curiosity rover. NASA just announced an open call for applicants to the mission's Science Definition Team, which will clearly define the exact scientific goals of the project.

See other posts from January 2013


Or read more blog entries about: Future Mission Concepts, Mars, Mars 2020


Nimo: 01/10/2013 11:09 CST

Sending a duplicate science laboratory to mars is silly and repetitive. Curiosity and opportunity have taught us many a things about mars and even our own planet, but it's time for Nasa to focus on the bigger picture that is our solar system. If it has an RTG, why don't we send this science laboratory to somewhere like Titan or possibly the polar caps of mercury, somewhere that will captivate and encourage generations for years to come?

Charlie: 01/10/2013 01:16 CST

I couldn't agree more with Nimo. Enough with Mars for right now. The solar system is a big place. I would say Titan and Europa are probably two of the most exciting possibilities to send rovers to.

Enzo: 01/10/2013 02:13 CST

The saddest thing is that, once you count all the money spent or to be spent on Curiosity, MAVEN, Insight and MSL2 (total $5B), there would be more than enough money for a $2B mission to Titan or Europa as well as Curiosity but no, Mars has to have it all. Wasting precious left plutonium for yet another Mars RTG where solar panels have been shown to work for 8 years is beyond words. Not to mention that it also precludes its use for outer planets missions where it's really needed. This is another indication that NASA is focusing on Mars alone. I would actually find hard to ask the government for more money for a different mission since it's already there and spent on one thing only. It would be easier to ask for more money for more missions if the one it's there is spent more equitably (and scientifically).

Casey Dreier (TPS): 01/10/2013 05:15 CST

@Enzo: Your comment was very temporally appropriate. Just this morning Len Dudzinski, head of the Radioisotope Power Systems project, addressed this point regarding P238 availability. Combining our remaining stockpile with what we have from Russia and the new material we're now making, there will be enough P238 for Mars 2020, a Europa mission, and a Discovery ASRG mission in 2017. So don't worry. People at NASA are still very committed to a Europa mission, but can't just make it happen. The Obama administration and Congress both have to approve of the mission to fund it. We're working hard here to try and make that happen.

Enzo: 01/11/2013 05:25 CST

Casey, You seem to imply that production of Pu238 has restarted. I did not know that and if it is indeed the case, then this is less of a problem. Regarding Europa I have seen 3 cancellations so far : Europa orbiter due to arrive in 2008 :-), JIMO and EJSM/Laplace. The latter not really cancelled because I don't think it ever really started anyway. Recently I have seen some other Europa Orbiter concepts but still no funding. So pardon my skepticism. As things stand now the best chance are 2 flybys from ESA in the early 30s during their proposed Ganymede orbiter mission. My point of view is that Insight and MSL2 money were re-directed, we could see the start of an Europa or Titan mission now and not in the indefinite future. Besides the lack of equity in funding, I find MSL2 rushed : shouldn't we wait for Curiosity results to design the appropriate instruments for follow up ?

Pablo: 01/11/2013 10:39 CST

While Europa and Titan are certainly curious from both a scientific and human interest perspective the overarching goal is to put men on Mars. The path to that goal must be focused. Exploring Mars with rovers is a necessity to reduce the human risk as well as the overall mission risk. As best I understand it, Mars is considered the stepping stone and is therefore essential to further exploration of our solar system to include the many unique moons it contains. Europa will happen. It just can't all be done at once. p

Casey Dreier: 01/11/2013 11:25 CST

@Enzo: P238 production is slowly restarting. Last Fall, the DOE created atoms of P238 in the United States for the first time in over 20 years (part of the early testing phase of the restart). NASA is predicting that by the end of the decade, we'll be creating P238 at a rate of 1.5 - 2.0 kg/year. This is Great News, and expect a longer article about this in a future issue of The Planetary Report. You're right that there is no budget line for a Europa mission. More money would need to be added to the planetary program in order to start the Europa Clipper mission, which is a reduced-scope Jupiter orbiter that will fly by the moon around 30 times in a 2-year mission. NASA has studied the hell out of a Europa mission, and would be able to start tomorrow if money suddenly appeared today. Your other comment goes into deeper policy issues, but fundamentally Congress tends to support the Planetary Science Decadal Survey, which represents a community consensus of the high-priority missions for planetary science. A Mars caching rover is #1 and a Europa mission is #2. Congress tends to support the recommendations in the Decadal, so prioritizing a Europa mission would be a unusual move. InSight is funded out of the Discovery mission program, an entirely separate line of funding within the Planetary Science Division and technically unaffiliated with any other program. It's a coincidence that InSight is a Mars mission, and it doesn't fit (technically) into the over Mars Exploration Program goals.

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