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NASA: New Mars Rover By 2020 79

Posted by Soulskill
from the but-i-want-it-now dept.
coondoggie writes "Looking to build on the great success and popularity of its current Mars Science Laboratory mission, NASA today announced plans to explore the red planet further, including launching another sophisticated robot rover by 2020 and widely expanding other Mars scientific projects. The plan to design and build a new Mars robotic science rover — which will mirror the technology employed with the current Curiosity rover — will advance the science priorities of the National Research Council's 2011 Planetary Science Decadal Survey (the report from the community and team of scientists that help NASA prioritize space missions) and further the research needed to send humans to the planet sometime around 2030, NASA said."
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NASA: New Mars Rover By 2020

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  • Economies of scale (Score:5, Interesting)

    by DigiShaman (671371) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @01:31AM (#42188661) Homepage

    Wouldn't it be more cost effective if they launched multiple vehicles at at time instead of just one? Perhaps NASA could work with other nations by building more rovers and letting them launch their own. If it's going to be in the name of science, why not?

    • You've been watching too much Contact. "Why build one when you can overinflated the cost and build 2?" lol.
      • by FleaPlus (6935)

        I really hate when people take that "Why build one when you can build two for twice the price" quote from the film adaptation of Contact and try to be clever by quoting it as if it had any bearing on reality. In the real world, the per-unit cost of building multiples of the same thing in parallel costs considerably less than building a one-off.

        • by asylumx (881307)
          That's much less true when the two things you are building are highly specialized equipment. It's not like there's a mars-rover assembly plant sitting in FL somewhere -- these things are hand-made in detail by highly paid scientists and engineers.
          • by khallow (566160)
            No, it's not. Those highly specialized pieces of equipment have high development costs. Making just two of them means you have half the development cost per unit.
          • by Unnngh! (731758)
            They did exactly this with Spirit and Opportunity, although I have no idea if there were any cost savings. Clearly, it is possible, and those were both successful far beyond the original mandates of the mission.
    • by physicsphairy (720718) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @02:25AM (#42188913) Homepage

      It's more cost effective if they make it to their destination. Keep in mind we are still at the "will it explode?" and "if it doesn't explode, will it avoid crashing?" and "if it doesn't crash, will it keep working?" part of the technology. So if the Mars rover works out, that's great, and in fact is a valuable enough confirmation to justify trying to do something similar again.

      But it's really better right now to have each rover be a stepping stone to the next. The sort of answers Curiosity gives us will tell us the sort of questions we want to design the next rover to resolve.

      • by icebike (68054)

        It's more cost effective if they make it to their destination. Keep in mind we are still at the "will it explode?" and "if it doesn't explode, will it avoid crashing?" and "if it doesn't crash, will it keep working?"

        Look at the track record. [thethinkerblog.com]

        Its not half as bad as you make it out to be.

        All those that end in a Black Dot are failures.
        Anything ending in a gray dot was meant to be a Orbiter.
        Those with white dots are landers.

        The success rate is getting better, (and the lines are getting blue-er.) Since 2000, almost every launch has succeeded.

        • by necro81 (917438)
          That's a really neat infographic. It stands to be updated, however. Phobos-Grunt was a total failure - didn't even leave Earth orbit. Mars Curiosity has successfully landed, but it's technically too soon to see if the mission is a success (two years operating on the surface is a mission success criteria). MAVEN looks likely to launch next year, but ExoMars (2016) may or may not make it off the ground.
      • by khallow (566160)

        It's more cost effective if they make it to their destination. Keep in mind we are still at the "will it explode?" and "if it doesn't explode, will it avoid crashing?" and "if it doesn't crash, will it keep working?" part of the technology. So if the Mars rover works out, that's great, and in fact is a valuable enough confirmation to justify trying to do something similar again.

        An observation which supports the original posters observations about economies of scale. A second MSL mission would have far less program risk than a new design precisely because these issues have been worked on.

        It's also worth noting that NASA really is launching a second MSL here. They're reusing the chassis, landing system, etc. They're being forced by budget cuts to use these economies of scale which they have repeatedly ignored in the past.

        But it's really better right now to have each rover be a stepping stone to the next. The sort of answers Curiosity gives us will tell us the sort of questions we want to design the next rover to resolve.

        Please keep in mind that people don't live forever. As it s

    • Wouldn't it be more cost effective if they launched multiple vehicles at at time instead of just one? Perhaps NASA could work with other nations by building more rovers and letting them launch their own. If it's going to be in the name of science, why not?

      With all the self driving technology we have now, (and will have by 2020), why not make it faster, and give it a capability to cover 20 or 50 miles a day or some such.

      The rovers we've sent really don't have the capability out of sight of their landing zone. That makes picking landing sites a huge challenge.

      With a slightly taller vehicle with a wider stance (bigger wheels) you could probably cover most of the martian terrain at substantial speed, totally autonomously.
      It could map as it went, and pick up soi

    • by Hentes (2461350)

      TFA talks about paving the way to a future manned mission so I assume that the capability of sending big and massive things to Mars has is a goal in itself.

    • by thrich81 (1357561)

      They used to do that a lot. Mariner 3 and 4 to Mars in 1965 -- Mariner 3 failed but Mariner 4 was a success. Mariner 6 and 7 to Mars in 1969 -- both successes. Mariner 8 and 9 to Mars in 1971 -- Mariner 8 failed, Mariner 9 succeeded. Pioneer 10 and 11 to Jupiter. Voyager 1 and 2. Viking 1 and 2. It used to be almost standard procedure and saved a few missions where one of the pair failed, usually on launch. Cassini to Saturn was supposed to have a fraternal twin on a comet/asteroid mission, CRAF, bu

  • by Dyinobal (1427207) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @02:02AM (#42188801)

    Mars is nice guys but lets go a place a little more interesting with our unmanned probes, like one of the interesting moons around our solar systems Gas giants.

    Lets send a manned mission to Mars, and send our robots places that have a higher chance of yielding some really interesting data. Data that even use armchair geeks can get excited about.

    • by Seumas (6865)

      I expect more remote control toys to Mars, nothing to any other planet, and no men to anywhere (except maybe back to the moon) for the rest of my life time. As a country, the US stopped giving a shit a very long time ago.

      • by dgatwood (11270) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @03:35AM (#42189221) Journal

        As a country, the US stopped giving a shit a very long time ago.

        The U.S. general public has never cared about space exploration; the public has only cared about beating someone else. Want to get a team of U.S. astronauts on Mars by 2019? Convince the Chinese government to announce to the world that they intend to land humans on Mars by 2020.

        I guarantee you that if the Chinese said they planned to establish permanent settlements on Mars in ten years, the U.S. government would move Heaven and Earth to get us there sooner, and they would succeed. Getting to Mars is easy. Convincing the bureaucrats that it is more important than building their little war machines to blow up countries with oil is hard.

        • by Seumas (6865)

          That's an excellent point. It works for getting us into military actions overseas and would definitely work for space exploration.

      • by icebike (68054)

        As a country, the US stopped giving a shit a very long time ago.

        Really? So why is there so much blue lines on this graffic, and why do ALL the successful landers have blue lines?

        http://thethinkerblog.com/images/missions_to_mars.jpg [thethinkerblog.com]

    • by MightyMartian (840721) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @02:54AM (#42189045) Journal

      The problem with the interesting moons like Callisto and Europa is that the liquid water oceans are dozens or hundreds of miles below the surface. Sure we might be able to sniff some pretty interesting stuff from ejected water, but the big finds on these moons are going to have to wait for future generations of equipment that can drill through kilometers of ice.

      Mars is a reasonably good testing ground for this kind of tech. Not only is it an interesting body with a unique geology and a history that to a point wasn't so different from Earth's and at least a moderate candidate for some kind of life, but it is also considerably closer than Jupiter or Saturn. It serves as a great test bed for the kinds of probes we will likely end up sending to other bodies in the solar system.

      I look at the Mars rovers as the best possible test bed for these new technologies, not only in building rugged mechanical systems that can survive intense temperature differentials, dust storms and climactic changes and even hard radiation, but also in the software. I expect with some of the major advances we're seeing in neural net development that by 2020 not only will the next rover be a more sophisticated machine, but it's brain will be considerably smarter too.

      When you really think about it, NASA's Mars program is leading the way in highly sophisticated semi-autonomous probes. In a generation, we'll probably be able to launch the grandchildren of Curiosity to places like Titan and give them a far wider range of tools to explore.

      • by necro81 (917438)

        but the big finds on these moons are going to have to wait for future generations of equipment that can drill through kilometers of ice

        I always figured that a Europa mission wouldn't drill its way down and bring material back to the surface, but rather would have its science instrumentation in a pod that would melt its way down. The lander would be a base station on the surface, mostly for communication, and the probe would use an RTG to gradually melt its way down, paying out a tether cable behind it.

        • by jdray (645332) *

          Sorry, but while your rudimentary concept is reasonable, one practicality stops it: at a certain point, the ice around the tether is going to freeze up, stopping the descent of the probe, which will end up hanging in its own little bubble of hot water. Now, studying that bubble might have some value, as we would probably find residue from whatever is in the ocean (if there's fish, we might find the up-welled bones and scales, for instance). Better to figure out some wireless communication technology that

    • Alternatively we can scrap the 'manned' mission to Mars, and use those resources on the interesting projects, e.g. the outer moons, or the inner planets. We've been to Mars already. Nothing to see there. Move along.
      • by Seumas (6865)

        I would settle for taking the interim step of just building some shit on the moon. Preferably not M.A.D. nukes.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    And I'm already worried about the landing.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      According to NASA, the landing system used for Curiosity was still not enough like a Wile E Coyote cartoon. Apparently the new landing system will involve a giant slingshot, a red boxing glove on a spring, an anvil, and several sticks of dynamite. The landing itself will be referred to as the 'seven minutes of hilarity' and will end with a perfectly rover-shaped hole being cut into the martian surface.

      • by Tarlus (1000874)

        ...followed by a little robotic arm which extends from the hole, holding a sign that says, "Ouch!"

  • by Pausanias (681077) <pausaniasx@gmail ... inus threevowels> on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @02:10AM (#42188835)

    I think we pretty much established that there's nothing but rocks on Mars. [theonion.com]

    Yes the rover flight and landing are marvels of engineering. There's no denying that. But can't we go somewhere new?

    In all seriousness, I feel like geologists have taken over NASA and these rovers are their way of bringing fame and power to the discipline of studying rocks.

    Let's take the first steps to go drilling into a subsurface ocean instead, shall we not?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Just rocks, along with water ice, CO2 ice, permafrost, and most and more hints of past liquid water. And dust devils. Also, far more detail about the formation and evolution of Mars (geologists do a bit more than say "that's a rock", they say "that's a rock from x years ago that was formed at y pressure and z temperature and its existence implies that processes a, b and c happened on this planet").

      Though I disagree that there's nothing but rocks on Mars, I agree it would be more interesting to send probes

      • by yahwotqa (817672)

        Just spread a rumor that dust devil nation is hiding weapons of mass destruction, and mankind will set foot on (heavily bombed by that time) surface of Mars in just a few years.

      • by kimvette (919543)

        > And dust devils.

        Note to NASA: Please include a video camera and microphone on a future rover. It would be interesting to experience the sounds of Mars - well, as much as the thin atmosphere would allow. Is it practical? It's as practical as anything else the rover does on a rock which at its absolute closest to us is about 34 million miles away from us, and which we will never set foot on because we do not fund NASA well enough. It would also be interesting to see temperature and wind speed posts o

    • Welcome to the real world of science - it's not a video game, and it's nothing like Star Trek or the Discovery Channel would have you believe. It's deadly fucking dull and repetitive. It barely makes for decent writing and doesn't make decent TV at all.

      But, it's how we (as a species) learn things. If you can figure out a better way, your name will be celebrated through the ages.

      If you insist that we have to keep trying new and shiny things just to keep you excited, you're part of the problem, not part of

      • It's deadly fucking dull and repetitive.

        Bullshit. It's the most interesting thing there is.

      • by khallow (566160)

        It's deadly fucking dull and repetitive. It barely makes for decent writing and doesn't make decent TV at all.

        Which is why the space scientist is the cheapest part of a space science mission. People really love that deadly dullness and work cheap to get it.

  • by DiSKiLLeR (17651) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @02:40AM (#42188985) Homepage Journal

    What I want to know is.. when are they going to send a rover or lander which can test for biology? Like the viking landers from the 70s.. since then they've completely avoided sending any biology experiments to mars... despite finding water and other organic chemicals?

    And yes, as someone else pointed out, why not make use of economics of scale and make multiple identical rovers and send them to multiple different places on the planet? It worked for Spirit and Opportunity, and instead of wasting so much money designing and building a new rover from scratch every time, build a more modular one and send many of them... even 1 every few years if 2 at once is too expensive. Modular so different experiences can be swapped in or out thus creating slightly different configurations or upgraded models ?

    Why design and build from scratch every time and not just design a reliable base model, a lot like the Soyuz, and just slowly evolve it over time or fly it in slightly different configurations? I know a Soyuz capsule is nothing like a mars rover, but a soyuz capsule is human rated and still cheaper than a freaking rover. The same concepts could be applied.

    • by Isaac-1 (233099) on Wednesday December 05, 2012 @03:12AM (#42189131)

      Because when it comes to rovers the technology is already advancing at such a rate that by the time they are flight certified and ready to go they look like a model T Ford in comparison to the stuff being played with in the development labs.

    • And yes, as someone else pointed out, why not make use of economics of scale and make multiple identical rovers and send them to multiple different places on the planet?

      You don't get much economy of scale until you're building them practically on an assembly line - which doesn't make much sense considering that you need to incorporate the science and engineering lessons learned into subsequent models. Those changes eat up most of any possible savings unless you're churning them out in the double digits ann

      • by kimvette (919543)

        > You don't get much economy of scale until you're building them practically on an assembly line - which doesn't make much sense considering that you need to incorporate the science and engineering lessons learned into subsequent models. Those changes eat up most of any possible savings unless you're churning them out in the double digits annually.

        Which we do not want to do, considering how quickly technology is advancing. I'd rather the little funding we do provide NASA go into the latest and greatest

  • send people
  • Let's remember that this second mission is sort of a freebie.

    Certainly they have a COMPLETE second mockup of the rover at NASA for troubleshooting, and *often* they have a third unit because in the development stage building a third is almost cost free (generally multiple copies of each component are made as backups, if they're never used you have essentially a full third device waiting in parts bins).

    So aside from the launch costs, the equipment is PROBABLY already paid for.

    Further, it's not a bad idea to

    • by khallow (566160)
      Eh, at $1.5 billion, there's a hell of a lot of cost from somewhere other than launch and operations. It sounds to me like in the ballpark of building an MSL from scratch, to be honest.
  • ~...Is this right? Why does it have 3 inch armor plating, a 5000hp rock drill, and, what are these, missiles?

    . ~ Ah, yes, well, when we did that "big reveal" this week, we didn't reveal everything. Loose lips and all that.

    .

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