Author Topic: Mars sample return  (Read 10279 times)

Offline vjkane

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Mars sample return
« on: 12/31/2017 03:36 PM »
With both NASA and China actively preparing the technology for a Mars sample return as early as the 2020s, this seems like a good new topic.

Popular Mechanics just published a nice, but non-technical, overview of both agencies plans and probable approaches.

http://www.popularmechanics.com/space/moon-mars/a14506608/united-states-china-racing-first-sample-from-mars/

Offline speedevil

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Re: Mars sample return
« Reply #1 on: 12/31/2017 03:50 PM »
With both NASA and China actively preparing the technology for a Mars sample return as early as the 2020s, this seems like a good new topic.

Popular Mechanics just published a nice, but non-technical, overview of both agencies plans and probable approaches.

http://www.popularmechanics.com/space/moon-mars/a14506608/united-states-china-racing-first-sample-from-mars/

Somewhat amusing that commercial might get there first, and is unmentioned.
Do I think SpaceX is likely to get samples to earth in 2025 - well no.
Do I think NASA is - hell no.

And the Chinese program is predicated around a rocket not even slated for launch till 2025.

Offline Coastal Ron

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Re: Mars sample return
« Reply #2 on: 12/31/2017 03:51 PM »
It is an interesting time in the space transportation field, with state controlled agencies using incremental systems to try and do extremely difficult planetary exploration, and the private sector (i.e. SpaceX for now) working on a revolutionary system to try and do extremely difficult planetary exploration.

You hope for everyone to succeed, but if SpaceX succeeds then everyone else will look really out of date.
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline SoTOP

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Re: Mars sample return
« Reply #3 on: 12/31/2017 10:05 PM »
You know something? There is a dedicated NASA effort to return samples from Mars. There are presentations and plans and all that. People doing real technology development. Hardware being tested.

But then I come to NSF and I see that you guys turn every discussion into SpaceX, and you know what? It shows how incredibly clueless you are about what is actually going on. And you don't even realize it. There's really no point in discussing it here, because you're all living in your little fantasy worlds.
So the difference between you and Spacex fanboys is that you live in NASA fantasy world? Because if we would be silly and take NASA Mars plans by heart, by the time NASA realistically would be ready to do sample return they should be landing people on Mars.

Offline UltraViolet9

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Re: Mars sample return
« Reply #4 on: 12/31/2017 10:18 PM »
There is a dedicated NASA effort to return samples from Mars. There are presentations and plans and all that. People doing real technology development. Hardware being tested.

NASA has worked Mars sample return presentations, plans, and technology development since the 1970s.  We should be realistic about NASA Mars sample return now.

There is currently no funded sample return mission at NASA.  OMB has opposed it so far.  Unlike Europa, there is no congressional champion.  Mars 2020 may do some caching.  But that is no guarantee that those caches will be deemed scientifically worthwhile to return to Earth.  Or, if the samples are deemed worthy, that the federal government will spend the billions of dollars necessary to bring them back.

In fact, NASA's Mars mission plans after 2020 are up in the air.  Jim Green himself has stated publicly that the previously planned 2022 orbiter is probably off the table.  Mission sequences after that are notional, undecided, and unfunded.  The FY17 budget request for the Mars program declines from almost $600 million to less than $300 million by FY21.  If that projection becomes reality, then there is no budget on the horizon for sample return.

I helped get the MERS mission, Mars Scouts, and subsequent program funded after the 98 mission failures.  I'm all for a good MSR mission after the past decade-plus of progress.  It is time.  But it's not clear that NASA has its act together on Mars like it did a decade or so ago.  And if it did, it's not clear that the agency's stakeholders are going to step up.

None of the above means that SpaceX is going to bring back a 3.5-billion year old, half-ton Mars boulder on a Red Dragon capsule.  (Of course not.)  But NASA needs a lot more than presentations, plans, and technology development if it's going to ever bring samples back from Mars.


Offline Coastal Ron

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Re: Mars sample return
« Reply #5 on: 12/31/2017 10:49 PM »
You know something? There is a dedicated NASA effort to return samples from Mars. There are presentations and plans and all that. People doing real technology development. Hardware being tested.

No doubt, but their plans still have a lot of TBD in them. Which is nothing unusual when an activity is not a major political priority, and there should be no doubt that given enough time and money that NASA can get samples back from Mars.

Quote
But then I come to NSF and I see that you guys turn every discussion into SpaceX, and you know what? It shows how incredibly clueless you are about what is actually going on. And you don't even realize it. There's really no point in discussing it here, because you're all living in your little fantasy worlds.

These are interesting times.

Ten years ago if anyone had thought that Elon Musk would be proposing a massive rocket and spaceship to move 100 humans to Mars on each trip, that would have seemed to border on fantasy. But over the past ten years a lot has happened in the private aerospace field, and it's impossible to ignore that.

It now looks possible that SpaceX could get to Mars.

That's nothing against NASA, especially since NASA doesn't control it's own destiny.

But I think a lot of people would agree that we are no longer in the realm of fantasy when talking about SpaceX and Mars.
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline vjkane

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Re: Mars sample return
« Reply #6 on: 01/01/2018 12:47 AM »
Ten years ago if anyone had thought that Elon Musk would be proposing a massive rocket and spaceship to move 100 humans to Mars on each trip, that would have seemed to border on fantasy. But over the past ten years a lot has happened in the private aerospace field, and it's impossible to ignore that.

It now looks possible that SpaceX could get to Mars.
Right now those plans exist on PowerPoint slides.  When they start cutting metal, running tests, learning from failures on their prototypes, I'll start to believe -- and add a decade.  Look at how much the Falcon Heavy has slipped because -- as Musk said -- it was harder than they had thought.  But they have hardware and so I believe they will bring it to flight.  We will see when their next plans reach this stage.

BTW, NASA has cut metal, run tests, and is learning on prototypes for the crucial components of its sample return. 

Offline redliox

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Re: Mars sample return
« Reply #7 on: 01/01/2018 03:26 AM »
BTW, NASA has cut metal, run tests, and is learning on prototypes for the crucial components of its sample return.

Given the thread's title, may we get links to papers talking about these prototypes and their progress?  :)

China is obviously trying to become a rising star, and its Lunar program shows that.  Assuming China is dead serious (although I suspect they're going to be delayed), I think NASA needs to condense and accelerate its MSR program.
 The 2020 Mars Rover via NASA obviously is already underway, so some solid work on the return needs to be presented.  I'm not a fan of the orbital rendezvous method, but I know what I have seen of MSR stuff implies the MAV could be achievable with funds, although I hate to settle for low Mars orbit.  I'd rather see a direct return and bypass worrying about an orbiter screwing up on the pickup.

All the same, who can post stuff about what's known on Mars Ascent?  It's better to debate with something to go off.
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Offline su27k

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Re: Mars sample return
« Reply #8 on: 01/01/2018 04:23 AM »
Right now those plans exist on PowerPoint slides.  When they start cutting metal, running tests, learning from failures on their prototypes, I'll start to believe -- and add a decade.  Look at how much the Falcon Heavy has slipped because -- as Musk said -- it was harder than they had thought.  But they have hardware and so I believe they will bring it to flight.  We will see when their next plans reach this stage.

BTW, NASA has cut metal, run tests, and is learning on prototypes for the crucial components of its sample return.

Right now everybody's MSR plans are PowerPoint slides, some are also depending on PowerPoint rockets, so what's your point? BTW, SpaceX's PowerPoint to reality speed is faster than a decade, for Falcon 9 it's 5 years, for FH it's 7 years, and they have been cutting metal (and carbon fiber) and doing tests for crucial components of BFR for years.

But this whole SpaceX vs NASA regarding MSR is misleading, since SpaceX has no interest in MSR, nor do they want to compete with NASA on MSR. What SpaceX may provide is cheap transport of significant mass to Mars, either to TMI via FH or to surface via BFR, depending on how much risk you're willing to take. Would this affect MSR plans? I don't know, but it seems to me this is worth discussing instead of just dismissing as fantasy land.

Offline speedevil

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Re: Mars sample return
« Reply #9 on: 01/01/2018 02:43 PM »
But this whole SpaceX vs NASA regarding MSR is misleading, since SpaceX has no interest in MSR, nor do they want to compete with NASA on MSR. What SpaceX may provide is cheap transport of significant mass to Mars, either to TMI via FH or to surface via BFR, depending on how much risk you're willing to take. Would this affect MSR plans? I don't know, but it seems to me this is worth discussing instead of just dismissing as fantasy land.

I should have expanded my post to what I thought it implied but maybe diddn't.

Even if a Mars sample return was funded in the next year after a successful sample-stow mission of Mars 2020 (around Nov 2020 at Mars), in 2021, it's hard seeing it likely to be launched in 5 years from then, or 2026.

It is at least plausible that before 2021, BFR/BFS will have demonstrated significant enough capability that it makes plans for returning five kilos (or whatever) to earth look utterly comical.

(If funded in 2021, and launched around 2026, earth return for a sample mission would be in 2028).

At the very least, barring total failure of BFR (say several pad and orbital reentry losses) at that time - 2021 - anyone funding such a mission would need to take a very careful look at risks and potential rewards of doing a one-off probe, or getting some tons of material back on a returning BFS.

In the context of mission costs like Mars 2020, ($2B) BFR can deliver payloads that are utterly game-changing, yet almost off the shelf in comparison to what's gone before.

Four pegasus rockets for earth return, rovers that are literally carefully chosen construction equipment with replaced wheels, with a dozen of them not one, ...

If you believe in ISRU, earth return gets rather better of course.

« Last Edit: 01/01/2018 03:05 PM by speedevil »

Offline vjkane

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Re: Mars sample return
« Reply #10 on: 01/01/2018 03:49 PM »
Even if a Mars sample return was funded in the next year after a successful sample-stow mission of Mars 2020 (around Nov 2020 at Mars), in 2021, it's hard seeing it likely to be launched in 5 years from then, or 2026.

It is at least plausible that before 2021, BFR/BFS will have demonstrated significant enough capability that it makes plans for returning five kilos (or whatever) to earth look utterly comical.

(If funded in 2021, and launched around 2026, earth return for a sample mission would be in 2028).

At the very least, barring total failure of BFR (say several pad and orbital reentry losses) at that time - 2021 - anyone funding such a mission would need to take a very careful look at risks and potential rewards of doing a one-off probe, or getting some tons of material back on a returning BFS.
NASA is thinking of flying in the mid-2020s, and so must commit to a launch vehicle early in that decades.

Mars scientists aren't looking to return tons of material.  They are looking to return carefully selected samples.  The 2020 rover will spend a couple of years or more going to explore locations to find and cache those samples.  Total returned mass is something like 30 sample cores with a total mass of <5 kg.  The goal is to sample specific types of geology that are expected to be rare, not mine a ton of soil and rocks from one place.  Think about how carefully terrestrial geologists hunt for the small locations on Earth that have rocks old enough to show conditions on Earth when life might have formed.  Rocks and soils that old on Mars are easy to find, but finding those the preserve specific conditions (such as signs of life or pre-biotic conditions) is tricky.  The 2020 instrument suite is tuned to analyzing potential samples locations at the scale of individual grains of soil and rock.

While the BFR might, without any delays due to design, testing, or flight, meet your schedule to become a qualified launch vehicle, there's also the matter of safe landing on Mars, ascent, and re-entry at Earth.  All are major challenges and all will require time.

Offline speedevil

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Re: Mars sample return
« Reply #11 on: 01/01/2018 04:07 PM »
NASA is thinking of flying in the mid-2020s, and so must commit to a launch vehicle early in that decades.

NASA is also thinking of manned moon and mars missions, growing food in space, supersonic airliners, ...

Sometimes external events mean that these mostly unfunded proposals never proceed to actual funding in anything like their expected form from five years before.
See for example WFIRST after the unexpected mirror gift.

Offline ccdengr

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Re: Mars sample return
« Reply #12 on: 01/01/2018 05:08 PM »
But then I come to NSF and I see that you guys turn every discussion into SpaceX...
I'd like to see the mods rigorously enforce a no-SpaceX policy on threads that clearly have nothing to do with SpaceX.  Although maybe it's just too late for that, and this site should quit pretending that it can serve as a forum for anything except SpaceX.

Offline raketa

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Re: Mars sample return
« Reply #13 on: 01/01/2018 06:02 PM »
But then I come to NSF and I see that you guys turn every discussion into SpaceX...
I'd like to see the mods rigorously enforce a no-SpaceX policy on threads that clearly have nothing to do with SpaceX.  Although maybe it's just too late for that, and this site should quit pretending that it can serve as a forum for anything except SpaceX.
This is the situation, SpaceX has and is building capabilities nobody is matching. Vulcan,NGL are still paper rockets.Even these paper rockets have less capability than Falcon 9H that will probably fly this month. Falcon 9H is an only rocket in next 5-10 years that will make possible to do Mars return sample.

Offline Negan

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Re: Mars sample return
« Reply #14 on: 01/01/2018 06:06 PM »
So what's NASA's current plan to get the samples back?
« Last Edit: 01/01/2018 06:09 PM by Negan »

Offline Bynaus

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Re: Mars sample return
« Reply #15 on: 01/01/2018 06:41 PM »
NASA's plan is essentially:

1) Cache samples with the next big rover
2) Send a surface mission to fetch those samples and bring them back to Mars orbit
3) Send an orbital mission to fetch the samples in Mars orbit, and return them to Earth
(potentially: 4) return the samples to a lunar orbit and fetch them with an Orion crew)

While I agree with "not everything is SpaceX", I also think that given their track record, the SpaceX plans should matter too because if they do succeed, the "canonical plan" (outlined above) might be quickly outdated and discarded. But the argument to keep a NASA-plan is similar to the SLS/BFR-case: as long as it isn't clear that SpaceX will succeed with their plans, its better to have a running NASA alternative.

The question then is whether this thread should be focussed on the running alternative (in which case a "no-SpaceX-policy" makes sense, except when it comes to launch vehicles) or whether all possible variants of MSR (including the one becoming possible once BFR flies) should be discussed. I'd advocate the former as it is just obvious that if SpaceX succeeds with a Mars-return-flight before NASA completes MSR, the discussion will be another one.

Offline redliox

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Re: Mars sample return
« Reply #16 on: 01/01/2018 07:09 PM »
If you believe in ISRU, earth return gets rather better of course.

Personally I believe it should be attempted, as it would allow direct returns that the asteroid and comet missions have already done.  However in fairness, I would like to see a comparison against what's been developed and conceived thus far with the default rendezvous conception; previously people like Vankane and Blackstar have implied there's solid rocket or hypergolic methods sufficiently advanced enough to put samples into low Mars orbit.  Basically if it already exists, don't discredit it and see what it can do.

A compromise could be to develop a simpler ISRU setup that manufactures oxygen.  The 2020 rover is already flying a small fuel cell meant to demonstrate this.  It would be logical to fly the same technology, scaled up of course, once the rover shows its possible.  The only other question would be what hypergolics or hybrid setups can burn with actual oxygen for oxidizer as opposed to other propellants.
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Offline Lar

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Re: Mars sample return
« Reply #17 on: 01/01/2018 07:12 PM »
(Mod)

NASA bashing is not welcome in this thread. NASA plans are what they are. Work is under way to realise them, but they are at the mercy of Congress to fund them all the way. Talk about the plans, the challenges, the chances for success, how they compare and contrast to the plans of others, but save the bashing.  Share links to what IS known instead.

SpaceX bashing is not welcome in this thread. SpaceX plans are what they are. Work is under way to realise them, (Metal is being bent, engines are under development)  but they are at the mercy of Murphy, and of their ability to fund them internally or find external sources.  Talk about the plans, the challenges, the chances for success, how they compare and contrast to the plans of others, but save the bashing. There are lots of threads here where interested readers can learn what is known and what is planned.

China bashing is not welcome in this thread. Chinese plans are what they are. We don't really know exactly what work is underway but learning more is interesting.  Talk about the plans, the challenges, the chances for success, how they compare and contrast to the plans of others, but save the bashing. Share links to what IS known instead.

(fan) For any organization to operate under the assumption that there is nothing happening elsewhere is foolish. For any organization to pin its chances for success on others without making provisions assuming no progress by anyone else is also foolish. We live in interesting time.  But squabbling is uninteresting.
« Last Edit: 01/01/2018 07:14 PM by Lar »
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline redliox

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Re: Mars sample return
« Reply #18 on: 01/01/2018 07:18 PM »
Thanks Lar  :)  We need this thread to focus on MSR.  A rocket is a rocket in the end.

Edit/Lar: singular.
« Last Edit: 01/01/2018 08:46 PM by Lar »
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Offline Space Ghost 1962

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Re: Mars sample return
« Reply #19 on: 01/01/2018 07:38 PM »
On the positive (but unexplored) side, here's a thought on how to deal with the generic case of sample return (not just Mars).

Structure a CRS-like program which bids out "return from on orbit somewhere", where each mission needs to start, be on station for a duration, and return in certain conditions. Offer a number of overlapping "slots" for N providers to bid on, and two to fly.

So there's always a return capacity present, and the providers are simply paid for the service, nothing else.

Obviously many vehicles already have the capabilities to do this in LEO already, and can be coaxed to cislunar, so why not take this to higher C3 and longer duration as well?

Then with that part spoken for and in place, 1/3 of the sample return capability is in place. And it would be lasting 2-4+ planetary oppositions, so if there was a failure to launch/hand-off it would be ready for the next try.

What screws up sample return is too many dependent parts provided by the same mission vendor. (Politics plays here too.)

Since there are soon to be many Mars capable LV platforms, extending the CRS concept to a BLEO logistics makes sense.

Tags: Mars