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Mars Space Science

Potential Landing Sites for EU Mars Rover Selected 79

Posted by Zonk
from the going-on-up dept.
kfz versicherung writes "In 2013 the European Space Agency will launch its mission to Mars - ExoMars. The multi-million-euro mission calls for a rover weighing just over 200kg that can trundle over the martian soil in search of past and present life. Now prime landing spots have been selected. The list includes two sites at Meridiani Planum, the flat expanse near Mars' equator where Nasa's Opportunity found possible evidence for an ancient sea. Early in Earth's history, all the primordial biochemistry took place in phyllosilicates, some kind of mineral that is a good matrix for preserving organic matter. Scientists are guessing that a similar site is the best place to start looking for fossil life on the Red Planet."
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Potential Landing Sites for EU Mars Rover Selected

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  • If we're lucky the american rovers can go high five the russian rover in 6 years. :)

    ps. Because this is /., I have to add in that I relize they will NOT be running. Its a JOKEY POO!

  • Esa officials have told member states to expect ExoMars to cost in the region of one billion euros.
    That's a lot of money. Anyone have figures for the cost of the various other Mars rovers and landers?
    • by Ashran (107876) * on Friday November 16, 2007 @12:44PM (#21380201) Homepage
      Mars Rover: According this article [space.com] on space.com

      The mission's total cost -- about $600 million -- may have to be deferred from NASA's budget, Weiler said, but would not cause the cancellation of any other mission at NASA. The Mars rovers are an "agency priority," he said. The second rover costs about $200 million, half of the $300 million to $450 million to build and launch the first.

      Wikipedia on MER Mission [wikipedia.org]

      The total cost of building, launching, landing and operating the rovers on the surface for the initial 90 day primary mission was about US $820 million)

      And according to the (Pathfinder [wikipedia.org] site on wikipedia

      Viking missions cost $935 million in 1974 or $3.5 billion in 1997 (not adjusted for inflation) Pathfinder mission $280 million, including the launch vehicle and mission operations.
      • by iamlucky13 (795185) on Friday November 16, 2007 @02:30PM (#21381713)
        Mars Rover and MER in your response are the same thing. The Space.com article is very out of date, and they had some cost overruns after that which pushed the mission to $820 million, which included I believe the first year of operations and science. I believe NASA has spent another couple hundred million on operations and science due to the extensions...a lot of money, but a lot less than equivalent new missions.

        Also, the Mars Science Laboratory [nasa.gov] currently being built for a launch in 2009 is looking to cost around $1.8 billion USD (a little over a billion Euros, IIRC). It will be nuclear-powered, land completely ready to go instead of in those nifty airbags the MER's came in on, and is roughly the size of a Volkswagen (which is why the airbags won't work). It's supposed to last about 2 years, so if it runs the way the MER's have, NASA will still be trying to kill it off 20 years from now (just kidding...that's ridiculously unlikely).

        MSL also ran into budget issues, and has increased in cost several times over the last couple of years, so NASA recently cancelled two rather fascinating instruments to keep the cost down. The first was the descent imager, which I'm not sure how much scientific value it would've had, but the time-lapse video of the descent would have been fascinating. The other was the ChemCam, a marvelous laser and spectrometer combo that would allow scientists to analyze the chemical composition of rocks from up to 40 feet away. However, the descent imager on the Mars Phoenix Lander currently en route turned out to have a fatal flaw, so the operations budget for that got switched to the construction budget for the MSL. Also, the Chemcam team realized that it had come down to defeaturing the Chemcam or not flying it all, and went with the former option to get back in budget. They got some extra money that was saved because Mars Phoenix launched on time. Unfortunately, the sweet zoom capability of the mast camera was cut out and not re-instated.
        • by Cally (10873)

          Mars Science Laboratory currently being built for a launch in 2009 is looking to cost around $1.8 billion USD (a little over a billion Euros, IIRC). I
          I just took a look at the 5y euro:dollar chart [yahoo.com] to check the rates -- I hadn't realised it was quite so drastic. $1 now gets you less than 70 eurocents, so $1.8 billion == EUR 2.6 billion.
    • by ross.w (87751)
      Like all european vehicles - it's all about the badge
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Why don't we just pick the site that will have the most interesting impact crater when this thing inevitably crashes in to a million expensive peices?

    I vote that the Europeans attempt to crash in to an American rover. Maby then it will have an impact.
    • by Tablizer (95088)
      Why don't we just pick the site that will have the most interesting impact crater when this thing inevitably crashes in to a million expensive peices?

      I vote your house ;-)
         
  • We've been sending satellites and objects to mars for a long time now (USA) some succeeded several failed. This being the EU first rover I really hope it makes it. Mars has a tendency to chew up man made objects.
  • by dhirsch226 (575367) on Friday November 16, 2007 @12:56PM (#21380371)
    The posting states "all the primordial biochemistry took place in phyllosilicates, some kind of mineral that is a good matrix for preserving organic matter". This is partially wrong, partially misleading, and partially speculative.
    • First, phyllosilicates are minerals whose structure is built out of SiO4 tetrahedra polymerized into 2-D sheets at the atomic scale. Examples are clay minerals and micas (biotite and muscovite, principally).
    • Second, the "life began on phyllosilicates" is merely an interesting hypothesis, and has not made it to the stage of theory. The basis for this is that phyllosilicates have those sheets stacked up in a periodic structure, and the spacing can be on the order of the spacing in RNA (disclaimer: I'm no expert on this hypothesis, and I don't have the paper in front of me now).
    • Finally, there's no way that phyllosilicates, or any mineral, are going to "preserve organic matter". Organic matter preservation is simply related to the history of the material (e.g., temperature, pressure, time).
    -Dave Hirsch
    Assoc. Prof. of Geology
    Western WA Univ.
    • by RockDoctor (15477)

      The posting states "all the primordial biochemistry took place in phyllosilicates, some kind of mineral that is a good matrix for preserving organic matter". This is partially wrong, partially misleading, and partially speculative.

      Anything right about it ?
      Actually I was wondering what to do about that comment - it is significantly confusing. You beat me to it.

      • First, phyllosilicates are minerals whose structure is built out of SiO4 tetrahedra polymerized into 2-D sheets at the atomic scale. Examples are cla

  • Given the past history of Mars probes (and european/UK ones in particular) I think they should choose a location that's featureless and well photographed, so that when the vehicle does go SPLAT! they'll at least be able to see where it's pieces are.
    • by mdwh2 (535323)
      (and european/UK ones in particular)

      Surely there's only been one european mission to Mars - which was a success, with a UK lander which failed. All the rest [marsflight.org] are US and USSR, and there've been plenty of failures.
  • ...simply made a http://www.google.com/mars/ [google.com] mash-up to select the landing sites.
  • by cats-paw (34890) on Friday November 16, 2007 @01:41PM (#21380975) Homepage
    Why does NASA have a fixation on sending single units to Mars ?

    Why can't NASA work on a mission which will deposit 10's or 100's of rovers ?

    Granted, there is a weight problem here, since each rover would have to be very light to carry that many of them to Mars.

    However imagine the coolness factor of 20 or 30 sojourners running around the surface of mars. You could split modularized science experiments up among them, having a basic structure and each having a set of modular science experiment units.

    With modularized components built in (relatively) large quantities the marginal cost of sending 30 rovers to Mars should be minimal.

    Seems to me that your chances of finding something interesting go up dramatically.

    • Uh, because 100s of rovers cost at least 10's as much more to acquire and 100s of times more to launch.

      The Sojourner is not a valid model for what you want because it was far too small to be autonomous of the lander.

              Brett
      • by khallow (566160)
        Launch costs go down significantly with increased launch volume. There are high fixed costs there.
        • by Rakishi (759894)
          No, the long term costs go down if a high volume is sustained or if the current infrastructure can trivially support higher volume. For a single one off launch the costs are higher as all the launch/manufacturing facilities need to be upgraded (and the extra capacity will see little future use).
          • by khallow (566160)
            Launching dozens of copies of a vehicle (as was proposed way back when in this thread) isn't one off, so we can rule out that scenario. I otherwise agree with you.
            • by Rakishi (759894)
              Well it is one off in the sense that you launch a dozen copies of something ONCE (ie: within a short period of time). All the infrastructure needed to build and launch these things becomes worthless once they are launched, assuming you have nothing else to use it for. It has to be a one off thign as otherwise there is a constant bugdet drain on NASA from the high number of launches which is likely way beyond it's ability to pay for (long term). Now you could launch them over a long period of time but then i
              • by khallow (566160)
                That's assuming you never want to build probes again. A number of businesses and organizations have found ways to reuse designs or infrastructure.
        • >Launch costs go down significantly with increased
          >launch volume. There are high fixed costs there.

          No, they don't. The current crop of boosters are developed, no plausible launch rate will bring it down significantly. For a Mars launch you are probably looking at at the very least $50 million a shot, and that's for a "one at a time" sized launcher. Forget "CATS" nonsense analysis, they can't come close to doing this mission. The *probes* would be cheaper en-masse, but not nearly
          • by khallow (566160)

            No, they don't. The current crop of boosters are developed, no plausible launch rate will bring it down significantly.

            Eh? Atlas V, Delta II and IV, Space Shuttle, Proton, Soyuz, Ariane V, etc. All have high fixed costs. None of them launch more often than 10 times a year. A rate of 20 times a year would probably shave 10-30% per launch off any given launch vehicle. Launching 100 probes at a time would see deep discounts on any vehicle.

            For a Mars launch you are probably looking at at the very least $50 million a shot, and that's for a "one at a time" sized launcher. Forget "CATS" nonsense analysis, they can't come close to doing this mission. The *probes* would be cheaper en-masse, but not nearly enough. Any we haven't even discussed operations support costs.

            The Mars Rovers were launched in 2003 on Delta II for $50 million each. There were seven Delta II launches that year including the two for the Mars Rovers. It's stupid to claim $50 milli

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Brett Buck (811747)
              Uh, yeah. I work in this business. . They cost what they cost, and the margin is already minimal - particularly on the Delta II, whose development cost was paid 30 years ago). Half the price *won't buy the parts and the labor it takes to assemble them*. The economies of scale won't cut the price in half, at most it will knock off 5% or so. Even during the idiotic "little LEO" era, no one thought it was going to be done with existing launchers. And no one involved thought it could be done for what you would
              • by khallow (566160)

                What bothers me here is that the state space hasn't been explored here. Delta II has launched 130 times in 18 years. That's pretty low. I grant I could be mistaken about what Boeing could do, if they had customers who wanted 50 launches a year. That the Delta II manufacture and launch process couldn't be modified to take advantage of potential economies of scale. I don't buy it however. I see substantial economies of scale with various ICBM designs, the Proton and Soyuz, and of course, in the original V2 co

    • Seems to me that your chances of finding something interesting go up dramatically.

      That depends very much on your belief about the distribution of the interestingness, and how much ground you expect each rover to be able to cover.

      If you think that the interesting things are few and scattered, then I agree with you. But there is no real reason to think this, except possibly for the lack of interesting things found so far. A more reasonable hypothesis is that the whole place is interesting, especially

      • by khallow (566160)
        Even if true, a detailed look at 30 places is going to be better than a detailed look at a couple of places.
        • by Rakishi (759894)
          Except the choice is a detailed look at a few places and a un-detailed look at 10 places (I expect 60%+ of those rovers to fail before doing anything useful).
          • by khallow (566160)
            Failure rate is the same or worse for a few as for a lot. If you're seeing 60% failure rate in 30 probes, you'll probably see at least that rate in 2 probes. It still means you expect to see no more than a fifteenth as much data.
            • by Rakishi (759894)
              No it's not because the probes are NOT identical. That is unless you mean to compare 30 probes at $1 billion each versus 2 probes at $1 billion each. In any sane reality you are comparing 30 probes worth $75 million each versus 2 probes worth $1 billion each. This disparity in per-probe funding filters down to the cost of continual support from earth not just in initial build/launch cost. Furthermore each of those 30 probes has to be much smaller than if only 2 probes were used (or launch costs grow too hig
              • by khallow (566160)

                Your assumptions are mistaken. There are big economies of scale in probe construction and deployment. First, development cost is fixed no matter how many probes are made with the design. Second, the cost of building 30 probes is going to be cheaper per unit than the cost of building 2 probes. Launch costs can be considerably reduced by launching all thirty over a few years and spread over several launchers. Finally, operation costs for managing 30 probes would only be a modest bit more than the cost of mana

                • by Rakishi (759894)

                  There are big economies of scale in probe construction and deployment.

                  Not really, most of the construction and deployment needs very specialized parts and 30 is nowhere near large scale production. For most things 30 costs almost as much to make per unit as 1. The savings come from being able to spread the R&D costs over 30 units (you can use the exact same process to make 1 or 30 in many cases) NOT from being able to make each one for cheaply.

                  Second, the cost of building 30 probes is going to be cheaper per unit than the cost of building 2 probes.

                  Depends, if you need to train new people due to the effort required it may not be cheaper. There is a non-trivial cost to increa

                  • by khallow (566160)

                    Your bit about launch windows is important. A huge number of launches over short periods of time every couple of years isn't conducive to low launch costs. OTOH, there are other trajectories to Mars. For example, there's a month long window to Venus every year or so. A gravity assist from that gives a trajectory with similar delta v and travel times to Mars. Or just leave the probe in a useful orbit till the window comes. Means more delta v and high launch costs overall in any case. But given the number of

        • by RockDoctor (15477)

          Even if true, a detailed look at 30 places is going to be better than a detailed look at a couple of places.

          That depends a lot on how carefully you select the thirty places that you're going to look at. Landing at thirty similar sites is likely to yield LESS data than landing at two highly diverse sites.
          I attended a conference last week which was (in part) about planning and selecting sites for oil exploration in the South Atlantic. Such explorations are highly expensive just like your Mars Rovers, so you d

    • by ceroklis (1083863)
      Better yet would be a faster rover, which could cover a much bigger area. I don't understand why MSL will travel at an average of 30 meters per hour while the winner of the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge traveled at an average of 30 kilometers per hour. I understand sojourner was slow because it had to be driven from the ground, but it seems autonomous driving technology could do much better than that.
      • by name_already_taken (540581) on Friday November 16, 2007 @03:14PM (#21382363)
        I don't understand why MSL will travel at an average of 30 meters per hour while the winner of the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge traveled at an average of 30 kilometers per hour.

        There are no gas stations on Mars.

        DARPA Grand Challenge vehicles were based mostly on normal motor vehicles with internal combustion engines and readily available fuels.

        The Mars rovers are solar powered. The sunlight isn't very strong on Mars and the rover can't carry an unlimited amount of solar panels, therefore the speed of the rover is limited by the available solar energy it can store up in its batteries.
        • by Tablizer (95088)
          [why so slow?] The Mars rovers are solar powered.

          The next one will be at least partly plutonium-powered. But the biggest reason for sluggish movement is because, first, the limited bandwidth between Earth and Mars; and second, scientists like to study the surveys taken first before/if they pick a spot to investigate close-up. It takes at least a few hours to do this, especially since communication takes between about 10 and 30 minutes to get to Mars or back (depending on orbit positions).
          • The next one will be at least partly plutonium-powered

            Correction. The next *US* rover will be. (I don't know what power system the EU one is yet.)
               
          • Communications lag is irrelevant.

            "scientists like to study the surveys taken first before/if they pick a spot to investigate close-up. It takes at least a few hours to do this"

            Read Isaac Asimov; in one of his stories, a very remote spacecraft gets into trouble and they are wondering what to tell the astronauts to try, since the communications lag means that they won't get a chance to get an answer for more than two attempts. The mission control director's mother suggests that they gossip: just keep talking
            • by Tablizer (95088)
              Your reply is not very clear. Could you elaborate? I suppose the rover could be programmed to analyze whats around it regardless of whether it was told to or not, but that is *untried* tech on Mars. It could get itself into trouble.
              • by tlambert (566799)
                This is more about scientists looking at their maps and sending instructions before the 20-40 minute round trip lag between the time the rover says "bing! I am done with the last task!" and the time the scientists hear the "bing!" and start plotting the next target.

                You plot the next target and send it 10-20 minutes before the rover can possibly get done with its last target, and there is no lag: the rover just immdiately goes after the new target.

                -- Terry
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          There are no gas stations on Mars.

          That is not even close to the real issue. The real problem is that there are no rover engineers on Mars. We could make the rovers bigger (more spread out mostly) and put bigger solar panels on them, increasing the solar panel area to mass ratio. But that would be more expensive to get there and it still wouldn't solve the problem that if you get stuck, the only way to get unstuck is to get another rover over there and bump you out - which sounds pretty expensive, doesn't it?

          Personally I think the answer

      • by Rakishi (759894)
        The DARPA vehicles also had extensively testing in the same environment, had to run for one day and still failed quite often. It also had a very large powerful engine and probably more kg of autonomous driving equipment than the mass of a whole mars rover.

        Also Mars is NOT Earth, it is not a pleasant environment. The trip there is even less pleasant. Normal electronics would likely arrive dead. Normal machinery would die quickly on Mars. Hell, machinery dies quickly on Earth if it weren't for constant mainte
    • by FleaPlus (6935)
      Why can't NASA work on a mission which will deposit 10's or 100's of rovers ?

      Launch costs. Granted, having a massive demand for launches like that might be able to induce economies of scale in the current launch industry.
    • by Tablizer (95088)
      Why does NASA have a fixation on sending single units to Mars ?Why can't NASA work on a mission which will deposit 10's or 100's of rovers ?

      I agree. They should survey Mars first before sending One Big rover. There are so many interesting and puzzling areas found from orbit. They should survey those areas with micro-rovers first. Otherwise, the One Big Rover may land in bland-ville.
             
    • by khallow (566160)
      I don't think we're ready to build hundreds of a single probe design. There's too much innovation between designs and we don't have the infrastructure to support that number of probes. But I see no problems either with making multiple copies of otherwise one-off designs or creating a lineage of probe designs (something like the Soyuz launch vehicles) with high reuse between subsequent designs and the gradual insertion of improvements.
    • Why can't NASA work on a mission which will deposit 10's or 100's of rovers ?

      Because any rover cheap enough to send in those numbers will a) be too small to have any useful scientific payload and b) be unlikely to survive long enough on the surface to use the science package it doesn't have anyhow.

      A less obvious problem is that we don't have the communications bandwidth (either in orbit around Mars or earthbound as part of the DSN).

      With modularized components built in (relatively) l

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by fotoguzzi (230256)
      Do you mean like a beowulf cluster of rovers?
  • *EU* mars rovers? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I may be nit-picking- but the ESA and the EU are actually rather distinct entities. The EU has no space agency.
    Some ESA member states, such as Switzerland, are not EU members, and they usually become rather touchy if ESA and EU get too close for comfort.

    EU institutions are all switching to .EU addresses. The ESA however will remain under .int in the foreseeable future (it has a redirect from esa.eu to esa.int though).
  • The list includes two sites at Meridiani Planum, the flat expanse near Mars' equator where Nasa's Opportunity found possible evidence for an ancient sea

    This is interesting to me in two ways.

    Since the EU rovers would likely have a different science package, they'd be able to do more research into what the NASA rovers have already done. That's cool.

    But, and this is the part I find the coolest ... if they did that, I'm fairly sure that would be the first chance to have two separate probes actually end up in t

    • I'm fairly sure that would be the first chance to have two separate probes actually end up in the same spot at the same time

      Well Pete Conrad landed Apollo 12 a couple of hundred metres from Surveyor 3. I don't think having one of your vehicles manned should exclude you from that record.

      They brought some bits of the surveyor back too.

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        Well Pete Conrad landed Apollo 12 a couple of hundred metres from Surveyor 3. I don't think having one of your vehicles manned should exclude you from that record.

        They brought some bits of the surveyor back too.

        Ah, thanks for the correction. I don't think I'd recalled/known that one.

        Cheers
  • Did it dawn on anybody else that the rover shown in the BBC article looks like a mailbox? It may end up breaking down, and the cause will be that Martains stuffed it full of envelopes.
                 
  • The EU [google.com] is not the ESA [google.com].

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