Author Topic: NASA's Large Strategic (i.e. "flagship") Missions  (Read 816 times)

Offline Blackstar

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http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=24857&_ga=2.67105966.1472896082.1503607309-262351816.1503607309

NASA Should Continue its Large Strategic Missions to Maintain United States’ Global Leadership in Space


WASHINGTON – NASA’s large strategic missions like the Hubble Space Telescope, the Curiosity rover on Mars, and the Terra Earth observation satellite are essential to maintaining the United States’ global leadership in space exploration and should continue to be a primary component of a balanced space science program that includes large, medium, and smaller missions, says a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  However, controlling the costs of these large missions remains vital in order to preserve the overall stability of the program, the report finds.

NASA’s large space science missions play critical roles in each of the agency’s four science divisions – astrophysics, earth science, heliophysics, and planetary science – and are needed to pursue compelling scientific questions. When faced with determining how to balance the development and operation of the largest flagship missions as part of a balanced program, NASA should seek guidance from the relevant National Academies decadal surveys and midterm reviews, as well as from other research-community based advisory bodies, said the committee that wrote the report.

The committee also recommended that mission advocates describe ranges of scientific scope such as minimum science goals and maximum budgets for the largest missions, as well as identify in decadal surveys what goals are most desirable at different budget levels. This approach will allow NASA to develop, if needed, less expensive implementation strategies (known as “de-scoping”) for missions so that they do not exceed budget constraints that may arise in the future. It could also identify opportunities to “up-scope” such missions to perform greater science, should budgets and the program balance allow.

In the past, concerns have been raised about NASA’s large missions as there has been a history of their costs exceeding original estimates, impacting the overall budget of the agency.  The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a recent example of a large mission that experienced substantial cost growth.  Big jumps in costs for a mission can have an impact on the entire science program at NASA.   

Although cost-evaluation and cost-management mechanisms developed at NASA over the past decade have proved to be effective, NASA should continue to use its various cost estimation and management tools to better assess and control the costs and risks of the missions and ensure they remain a viable option, the report says. The agency should also support the development of new estimation tools to perform robust cost estimates and risk assessment for future missions. 

“New technologies will require new methods of estimating costs,” said Kathryn Thornton, committee co-chair and director of the aerospace engineering program at the University of Virginia, who also helped repair the Hubble Space Telescope during its first in-orbit servicing mission. “Although NASA has gotten better at developing such tools, the agency will have to adapt its ways as technology evolves.”

Given that the scientific priorities for the agency are determined by the decadal surveys, the committee also recommended that the surveys should be informed by, but not restricted to, future projections of available budgets. Such flexibility may enable new and potentially revolutionary large strategic missions.

The study was sponsored by National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit http://national-academies.org.


« Last Edit: 08/24/2017 08:45 PM by Blackstar »

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NASA's Large Strategic (i.e. "flagship") Missions
« Reply #1 on: 08/24/2017 08:44 PM »
Here is the report:

Offline Blackstar

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Re: NASA's Large Strategic (i.e. "flagship") Missions
« Reply #2 on: 08/25/2017 02:43 PM »
http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-nasa-missions-strategy-20180824-story.html

Should NASA keep flying flagship missions? A new report weighs in
Amina Khan Amina Khan Contact Reporter

NASA’s biggest, most ambitious missions may cost billions — but they’re well worth it, according to a report published Thursday.

The findings, released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, may help settle the question of whether the agency should be investing in missions of this size.



[SNIP]

Before he retired last year, John Grunsfeld, then associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, commissioned the outside report. The goal: to assess the role of NASA’s large strategic missions — projects like the James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in 2018, or the Mars Science Laboratory rover (a.k.a. Curiosity), which has been exploring the Red Planet since 2012.

“These missions typically are billion-dollar class missions, the most costly, the most complex, but also the most capable of the fleet of scientific spacecraft developed by NASA,” the report’s authors wrote. “They produce tremendous science returns and are a foundation of the global reputation of NASA and the U.S. space program.”

In recent years, some of these large missions had come under scrutiny. The Webb telescope, for example, had been criticized for delays and cost increases. Even Curiosity, considered a very successful flagship mission, was critiqued for being two years late and over budget. And in 2013, former Administrator Charles Bolden reportedly went so far as to tell scientists that they had to “stop thinking about … flagship missions.”

The lingering worry was whether such large strategic missions were worth the time, money and effort, and in the process taking resources away from smaller but just as worthy missions.

“There always is this question of balance, and … a question of what exactly does balance mean,” Ralph L. McNutt Jr., a space plasma physicist at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said in reference to the Webb telescope. McNutt co-chaired the committee that wrote the new report.

The report analyzed missions from each of the four divisions in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate: astrophysics, Earth science, heliophysics and planetary science.

The results? When it comes to planning and budgeting large-scale, flagship missions, NASA’s doing pretty well.

“We reaffirmed that, yes, these large missions are important,” said committee co-chair Kathryn Thornton, a former NASA astronaut and an aerospace engineer at the University of Virginia. “There are some science questions you cannot answer any other way.”

In fact, in the last few years NASA’s Science Mission Directorate has actually gotten better at making accurate cost estimates early in the game, the report authors said. It has also begun taking better cues from decadal surveys — reports by the national academies that lay out the upcoming scientific priorities for each of those four divisions.

In all divisions, balancing those large missions with a healthy number of small and medium missions is key, the scientists added.

“As the report says, not all strategic missions are large,” said Victoria Hamilton, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute who served on the committee that wrote the report. “There are strategic scientific objectives that can be met with spacecraft that would fall in the small or medium classes.”


Offline Don2

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Re: NASA's Large Strategic (i.e. "flagship") Missions
« Reply #3 on: 09/04/2017 08:32 PM »
In general I think that NASA spends too much on large missions. However, there are cases where a large mission is justified. Sometimes there are strong economies of scale. Sometimes different parts of a mission strongly complement one another. And sometimes resources like telecommunications can be used for multiple different purposes at different times.

One example of potentially complementary capabilities is in the New Frontiers mission proposals for Titan. The Oceanus orbiter claims 25m imaging resolution. The Dragonfly quadrocopter aims to sample the chemistry of the surface at multiple sites. These could form two halves of a very interesting small Flagship mission. Orbital imagery would be very useful for finding landing sites for Dragonfly. Orbital imaging could identify major terrain types, while Dragonfly could investigate them up close. Dragonfly is at high risk of a cost over-run due to the novel technology, and this would be easier to accommodate in a Flagship program than in the cost capped New Frontiers.

The other New Frontiers ideas for Saturn also offer examples of resources that could be re-used. To relay data from an atmosphere probe you need a telecommunications relay. That costs maybe $600 million to build if it is restricted to low data rate. Atmosphere probe missions only last for a couple of hours, and after that they relay is available for another mission. A Titan lake lander could be a suitable candidate as long as it did not overlap with the atmosphere probe mission.

The relay spacecraft could also do other jobs. Mass spectrometers don't produce a lot of data and there are two proposals to use them at Saturn. One is to fly through the plumes of Enceladus. Between flybys the probe would have time for something else. Another proposal is to orbit a mass spectrometer around Titan to study the atmosphere. Perhaps, once the probe is done with Enceladus flybys it could go into orbit around Titan?

I think it may be possible for a single Flagship class probe to combine all those different jobs. An atmosphere probe would cost $300 million. A Titan lake lander is maybe $500 million. Add another $100 million for the mass spectrometer and tankage to fly a tour.  That comes to about $1.5 billion for a small Flagship.


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