Author Topic: Possible cost-reduction possibilities for the NASA portions of MSR  (Read 104101 times)

Offline Blackstar

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Which may mean that planetary protection expectations need to be revisited.  It seems counterproductive that even robotic exploration is priced out of existence due to planetary protection expectations.

I think this thread is generally ridiculous, but I'm going to reply to this comment. Note that one of the primary reasons for doing MSR is to detect signs of past life, or at least the environmental characteristics that could have contributed to past life. That is why planetary protection exists, to NOT contaminate the very things you are trying to study. So if you "relax" the planetary protection requirements, contaminate the samples, and then can no longer detect what you are looking for, you shouldn't do the mission in the first place. Doctors sterilize instruments and wash their hands before an operation so that they don't kill their patient with an infection.

That said, planetary protection is a very complicated subject that even the experts struggle to understand. But one of the things that the community has considered is different levels of protection. If you are going to land in a dry, flat area that never had any water, you probably need a lower level of protection than if you are digging up sedimentary rocks that may still have water in or near them.  So the evolving planetary protection concept is as VSECOTSPE characterized it--land the dirty stuff far away from the areas that require the most protection.

« Last Edit: 02/26/2024 02:06 pm by Blackstar »

Offline Negan

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Which may mean that planetary protection expectations need to be revisited.  It seems counterproductive that even robotic exploration is priced out of existence due to planetary protection expectations.

I think this thread is generally ridiculous, but I'm going to reply to this comment. Note that one of the primary reasons for doing MSR is to detect signs of past life, or at least the environmental characteristics that could have contributed to past life. That is why planetary protection exists, to NOT contaminate the very things you are trying to study. So if you "relax" the planetary protection requirements, contaminate the samples, and then can no longer detect what you are looking for, you shouldn't do the mission in the first place. Doctors sterilize instruments and wash their hands before an operation so that they don't kill their patient with an infection.

That said, planetary protection is a very complicated subject that even the experts struggle to understand. But one of the things that the community has considered is different levels of protection. If you are going to land in a dry, flat area that never had any water, you probably need a lower level of protection than if you are digging up sedimentary rocks that may still have water in or near them.  So the evolving planetary protection concept is as VSECOTSPE characterized it--land the dirty stuff far away from the areas that require the most protection.

Why are you claiming the samples would be contaminated?

Edit: It seems like the sampling process is pretty solid as far as preventing contamination goes and identifying any possible contamination from Perserverance. It doesn't seem to depend on non-contamination from the retrieval process at all.
« Last Edit: 02/24/2024 05:18 pm by Negan »

Offline Todd Martin

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[/quote]
Which begs the question:  would bringing an autoclave on the mission to sterilize the sample canister be helpful?
[/quote]

If you've ever cooked an egg you've seen what heat does to biological molecules. It transforms (denatures) them as the protein chains unfold, and they lose their biological function. Heat sterilization would wipe out a lot of the astrobiology. It might leave many of the geoscience objectives intact.

It has been considered in the past, but was rejected because of the loss of science value. It probably should be looked at again. It would mean that you could use a parachute on the Earth entry vehicle, which would make the orbiting sample much lighter and therefore the MAV could be smaller.
[/quote]
Well, a few points on this subject:
1) All of the specimens being collected are from sites that were deemed unlikely to have life.
2) The investigations to be conducted are not expected to find life in the samples.
3) If life is present, it is unlikely to be proteins.
4) Investigators may sterilize the samples after return from Mars anyway.  If anyone knows if that is the plan, please chime in.

Offline Negan

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According to NASA "Once the tube is hermetically sealed, nothing can enter or leave it".

Edit: As far as retrieving the samples, the concern is backward planetary protection. Nothing else as far as sterilization.
« Last Edit: 02/24/2024 06:06 pm by Negan »

Online DanClemmensen

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That said, planetary protection is a very complicated subject that even the experts struggle to understand. But one of the things that the community has considered is different levels of protection. If you are going to land in a dry, flat area that never had any water, you probably need a lower level of protection than if you are digging up sedimentary rocks that may still have water in or near them.  So the evolving planetary protection concept is as VSECOTSPE characterized it--land the dirty stuff far away from the areas that require the most protection.
Why are you claiming the samples would be contaminated?
I think the presumption is that any part of the lander that was exposed to non-cleanroom atmosphere on Earth is a potential source of contamination. This would include the entire outer surface of a Starship and all of the interior. The argument is that any possibility of contamination, however small, is unacceptable, because is would call into question any tiny indication of life that was found by the science instruments.

The sterilizing effects of vacuum, launch, solar radiation in space, and entry into the Martian atmosphere are not to be trusted.


Offline Vultur

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Which may mean that planetary protection expectations need to be revisited.  It seems counterproductive that even robotic exploration is priced out of existence due to planetary protection expectations.

I think this thread is generally ridiculous, but I'm going to reply to this comment. Note that one of the primary reasons for doing MSR is to detect signs of past life, or at least the environmental characteristics that could have contributed to past life. That is why planetary protection exists, to NOT contaminate the very things you are trying to study. So if you "relax" the planetary protection requirements, contaminate the samples, and then can no longer detect what you are looking for, you shouldn't do the mission in the first place. Doctors sterilize instruments and wash their hands before an operation so that they don't kill their patient with an infection.

That said, planetary protection is a very complicated subject that even the experts struggle to understand. But one of the things that the community has considered is different levels of protection. If you are going to land in a dry, flat area that never had any water, you probably need a lower level of protection than if you are digging up sedimentary rocks that may still have water in or near them.  So the evolving planetary protection concept is as VSECOTSPE characterized it--land the dirty stuff far away from the areas that require the most protection.

I am sure you have heard the full story, so I'm not challenging, just asking an honest question - why doesn't environmental DNA/RNA analysis (metagenomics) rule out the possibility of mistaking Earth life contamination for Mars life?

Naively, I'd think that if it's a known species or fits closely to known species, it's contamination; if it uses Earth sequences but is 3+ billion years divergent, it's an early meteorite transfer; and if it uses totally alien sequences, or no DNA/RNA at all, it's truly alien.

Offline Negan

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That said, planetary protection is a very complicated subject that even the experts struggle to understand. But one of the things that the community has considered is different levels of protection. If you are going to land in a dry, flat area that never had any water, you probably need a lower level of protection than if you are digging up sedimentary rocks that may still have water in or near them.  So the evolving planetary protection concept is as VSECOTSPE characterized it--land the dirty stuff far away from the areas that require the most protection.
Why are you claiming the samples would be contaminated?
I think the presumption is that any part of the lander that was exposed to non-cleanroom atmosphere on Earth is a potential source of contamination. This would include the entire outer surface of a Starship and all of the interior. The argument is that any possibility of contamination, however small, is unacceptable, because is would call into question any tiny indication of life that was found by the science instruments.

The sterilizing effects of vacuum, launch, solar radiation in space, and entry into the Martian atmosphere are not to be trusted.

I don't think your explanation is correct as far as the samples go. If so, witness tubes would be included in the retrieval system. I see no evidence of that (probably another mass issue).
« Last Edit: 02/24/2024 07:32 pm by Negan »

Offline deltaV

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Which may mean that planetary protection expectations need to be revisited.  It seems counterproductive that even robotic exploration is priced out of existence due to planetary protection expectations.

I think this thread is generally ridiculous, but I'm going to reply to this comment. Note that one of the primary reasons for doing MSR is to detect signs of past life, or at least the environmental characteristics that could have contributed to past life. That is why planetary protection exists, to NOT contaminate the very things you are trying to study. So if you "relax" the planetary protection requirements, contaminate the samples, and then can no longer detect what you are looking for, you shouldn't do the mission in the first place. Doctors sterilize instruments and wash their hands before an operation so that they don't kill their patient with an infection.

That said, planetary protection is a very complicated subject that even the experts struggle to understand. But one of the things that the community has considered is different levels of protection. If you are going to land in a dry, flat area that never had any water, you probably need a lower level of protection than if you are digging up sedimentary rocks that may still have water in or near them.  So the evolving planetary protection concept is as VSECOTSPE characterized it--land the dirty stuff far away from the areas that require the most protection.

Please fix your quotes. I didn't say what you quoted me as saying (RedLineTrain did).

Offline thespacecow

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That said, planetary protection is a very complicated subject that even the experts struggle to understand. But one of the things that the community has considered is different levels of protection. If you are going to land in a dry, flat area that never had any water, you probably need a lower level of protection than if you are digging up sedimentary rocks that may still have water in or near them.  So the evolving planetary protection concept is as VSECOTSPE characterized it--land the dirty stuff far away from the areas that require the most protection.
Why are you claiming the samples would be contaminated?
I think the presumption is that any part of the lander that was exposed to non-cleanroom atmosphere on Earth is a potential source of contamination. This would include the entire outer surface of a Starship and all of the interior. The argument is that any possibility of contamination, however small, is unacceptable, because is would call into question any tiny indication of life that was found by the science instruments.

The sterilizing effects of vacuum, launch, solar radiation in space, and entry into the Martian atmosphere are not to be trusted.

That's because nobody has spent the time and money to qualify it, doesn't mean it can't be ever trusted, in fact PPIRB recommended NASA to look into this:

Quote from: Planetary Protection Independent Review Board
Supporting Recommendation: For both forward and backward contamination
requirements, NASA should continue to allow novel approaches, such as crediting for
time spent in the harsh space environment or on harsh planetary surfaces (e.g., UV,
radiation, temperature extremes, lack of liquid water). To enable this, NASA should
support quantitative laboratory studies of such approaches to demonstrate
quantitative PP credits.

And there're ways you can sterilize the inside of Starship after it's launched, using UV for example.

Note all these are to satisfy the planetary protection requirements for Starship landing and operation on Mars surface, it has nothing to do with sample contamination. As Negan said, the sample tubes are sealed so they can't be contaminated.

And even if you worry about sample tube seal is broken somehow, and can't sterilize Starship, that is no obstacle. You just need to sterilize the sample retrieval vehicle and put the samples inside a sterilized container before putting the container inside Starship. Like, this is not rocket science, just common sense.
« Last Edit: 02/25/2024 01:02 pm by thespacecow »

Online DanClemmensen

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That said, planetary protection is a very complicated subject that even the experts struggle to understand. But one of the things that the community has considered is different levels of protection. If you are going to land in a dry, flat area that never had any water, you probably need a lower level of protection than if you are digging up sedimentary rocks that may still have water in or near them.  So the evolving planetary protection concept is as VSECOTSPE characterized it--land the dirty stuff far away from the areas that require the most protection.
Why are you claiming the samples would be contaminated?
I think the presumption is that any part of the lander that was exposed to non-cleanroom atmosphere on Earth is a potential source of contamination. This would include the entire outer surface of a Starship and all of the interior. The argument is that any possibility of contamination, however small, is unacceptable, because is would call into question any tiny indication of life that was found by the science instruments.

The sterilizing effects of vacuum, launch, solar radiation in space, and entry into the Martian atmosphere are not to be trusted.

That's because nobody has spent the time and money to qualify it, doesn't mean it can't be ever trusted, in fact PPIRB recommended NASA to look into this:

Quote from: Planetary Protection Independent Review Board
Supporting Recommendation: For both forward and backward contamination
requirements, NASA should continue to allow novel approaches, such as crediting for
time spent in the harsh space environment or on harsh planetary surfaces (e.g., UV,
radiation, temperature extremes, lack of liquid water). To enable this, NASA should
support quantitative laboratory studies of such approaches to demonstrate
quantitative PP credits.

And there're ways you can sterilize the inside of Starship after it's launched, using UV for example.

Note all these are to satisfy the planetary protection requirements for Starship landing and operation on Mars surface, it has nothing to do with sample contamination. As Negan said, the sample tubes are sealed so they can't be contaminated.

And even if you worry about sample tube seal is broken somehow, and can't sterilize Starship, that is no obstacle. You just need to sterilize the sample retrieval vehicle and put the samples inside a sterilized container before putting the container inside Starship. Like, this is not rocket science, just common sense.
I personally feel that extreme planetary protection measures are a bad idea. Even with no measures in place the risk of contamination is minimal to non-existent, and the cost (i.e., consequences) of contaminating  Mars is effectively zero.

That said, here is a contamination scenario:   Prior to propellant loading, a sparrow files into the SS engine bay through the hot-stage ring openings, and poops on the top of a Raptor engine. SS flies to Mars and lands, and the poop finally drops off because of the landing thrust and is blown out by the entrained Martian air, landing on the surface some distance away from the landing. The sampler robot happens to choose the landing site of the poop. Voila! life on Mars!

Five year later scientists determine that Mars has been contaminated by human intervention. Who cares?

Offline MickQ

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Why not pick a couple of areas of little or no scientific interest and declare them as human reserves and therefore contaminated.  Land all the ships in these areas and venture out from there.

Offline mandrewa

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Imagine a Starship delivering 150 metric tons of payload to low Martian orbit in the early 2030s.

And this is a non-standard Starship.  I'll call it the MSR Starship.  It doesn't have to have tiles.  It doesn't have to have flaps.  Its propellant tanks will be a different size than standard.

This MSR Starship will not land on Mars and it will not return to Earth.  It will be expended.

From the perspective of the Mars Sample Return people it almost doesn't matter how the MSR Starship does its thing.  What they care about is that they start off with 150 metric tons of payload in low Martian orbit.

Now does this make it easier to do a Mars sample return mission?  I'm pretty sure it does.  I can't say exactly how much easier.  But I would be surprised if it wasn't about ten times easier than the other architecture that the MSR people are considering.

This doesn't work if you don't have an MSR Starship.  But if you do have it, then it's a big simplification.

What are the obstacles to having an MSR Starship?  Well it has to be economically feasible.  So that means you have to have a recoverable booster.  You have to have recoverable standard Starships, like the LEO Starship Tankers.  And all this is necessary because it takes quite a few Starship launches to set up a MSR Starship mission.

But this overlaps with using the Starship to support lunar missions.  If you can do the one, then eventually you are going to be able to do the other.
This doesn't help in any way. The mass issues are not related to launching it from earth. They are related to landing it on mars, doing stuff on mars, taking off from mars, returning to earth from mars.
Starship solves exactly ZERO things.

I'm puzzled by this comment from Deadman.  Why wouldn't 150 metric tons be of use to the Mars Sample Return effort?

The Maven orbiter masses 0.8 metric tons.  MRO masses 1.0 metric tons.

I believe one metric ton is the largest mass we've been able to put into low Martian Orbit.  And absent Starship I think that is probably still close to the best we can do.

Why wouldn't putting up more than one hundred times that much mass be extremely helpful for a Mars Sample Return effort?

Offline RedLineTrain

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Imagine a Starship delivering 150 metric tons of payload to low Martian orbit in the early 2030s.

And this is a non-standard Starship.  I'll call it the MSR Starship.  It doesn't have to have tiles.  It doesn't have to have flaps.  Its propellant tanks will be a different size than standard.

This MSR Starship will not land on Mars and it will not return to Earth.  It will be expended.

From the perspective of the Mars Sample Return people it almost doesn't matter how the MSR Starship does its thing.  What they care about is that they start off with 150 metric tons of payload in low Martian orbit.

Now does this make it easier to do a Mars sample return mission?  I'm pretty sure it does.  I can't say exactly how much easier.  But I would be surprised if it wasn't about ten times easier than the other architecture that the MSR people are considering.

This doesn't work if you don't have an MSR Starship.  But if you do have it, then it's a big simplification.

What are the obstacles to having an MSR Starship?  Well it has to be economically feasible.  So that means you have to have a recoverable booster.  You have to have recoverable standard Starships, like the LEO Starship Tankers.  And all this is necessary because it takes quite a few Starship launches to set up a MSR Starship mission.

But this overlaps with using the Starship to support lunar missions.  If you can do the one, then eventually you are going to be able to do the other.
This doesn't help in any way. The mass issues are not related to launching it from earth. They are related to landing it on mars, doing stuff on mars, taking off from mars, returning to earth from mars.
Starship solves exactly ZERO things.

I'm puzzled by this comment from Deadman.  Why wouldn't 150 metric tons be of use to the Mars Sample Return effort?

The Maven orbiter masses 0.8 metric tons.  MRO masses 1.0 metric tons.

I believe one metric ton is the largest mass we've been able to put into low Martian Orbit.  And absent Starship I think that is probably still close to the best we can do.

Why wouldn't putting up more than one hundred times that much mass be extremely helpful for a Mars Sample Return effort?

To "steel man" the argument...  It might help a bit and obviously can't hurt, but the Mars landed mass is constrained by the current tech stack utilizing parachutes, not the amount of mass we can throw toward Mars.  As we continue to move to propulsive landing, those constraints disappear.  The bad news is that this tech stack will continue to be under development for a decade or more and will be embodied in a Starship spaceship.  The good news is that NASA will get it more or less for free due to Starlink launches and HLS tanking.

Offline Zed_Noir

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Why not pick a couple of areas of little or no scientific interest and declare them as human reserves and therefore contaminated.  Land all the ships in these areas and venture out from there.
The current NASA planetary protection guidelines AIUI. Doesn't permit Starships, never mind  personnel to landed on the Martian surface. So the concept of reserve zones is moot.

Offline mandrewa

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Imagine a Starship delivering 150 metric tons of payload to low Martian orbit in the early 2030s.

And this is a non-standard Starship.  I'll call it the MSR Starship.  It doesn't have to have tiles.  It doesn't have to have flaps.  Its propellant tanks will be a different size than standard.

This MSR Starship will not land on Mars and it will not return to Earth.  It will be expended.

From the perspective of the Mars Sample Return people it almost doesn't matter how the MSR Starship does its thing.  What they care about is that they start off with 150 metric tons of payload in low Martian orbit.

Now does this make it easier to do a Mars sample return mission?  I'm pretty sure it does.  I can't say exactly how much easier.  But I would be surprised if it wasn't about ten times easier than the other architecture that the MSR people are considering.

This doesn't work if you don't have an MSR Starship.  But if you do have it, then it's a big simplification.

What are the obstacles to having an MSR Starship?  Well it has to be economically feasible.  So that means you have to have a recoverable booster.  You have to have recoverable standard Starships, like the LEO Starship Tankers.  And all this is necessary because it takes quite a few Starship launches to set up a MSR Starship mission.

But this overlaps with using the Starship to support lunar missions.  If you can do the one, then eventually you are going to be able to do the other.
This doesn't help in any way. The mass issues are not related to launching it from earth. They are related to landing it on mars, doing stuff on mars, taking off from mars, returning to earth from mars.
Starship solves exactly ZERO things.

I'm puzzled by this comment from Deadman.  Why wouldn't 150 metric tons be of use to the Mars Sample Return effort?

The Maven orbiter masses 0.8 metric tons.  MRO masses 1.0 metric tons.

I believe one metric ton is the largest mass we've been able to put into low Martian Orbit.  And absent Starship I think that is probably still close to the best we can do.

Why wouldn't putting up more than one hundred times that much mass be extremely helpful for a Mars Sample Return effort?

To "steel man" the argument...  It might help a bit and obviously can't hurt, but the Mars landed mass is constrained by the current tech stack utilizing parachutes, not the amount of mass we can throw toward Mars.  As we continue to move to propulsive landing, those constraints disappear.  The bad news is that this tech stack will continue to be under development for a decade or more and will be embodied in a Starship spaceship.  The good news is that NASA will get it more or less for free due to Starlink launches and HLS tanking.

I'm having a terrible time finding the mass of the cruise stage, aeroshell, and descent stage of the Mars 2020 Rover.  The reason I wanted to know those numbers was to get kind of rough feel for how much of the mass of that mission was about getting rid of the 20,000 km/hr velocity with respect to Mars that it had coming from Earth.

I suspect that it would be considerably easier to land on Mars if you're starting from low Martian orbit.

Offline vjkane

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You need a system that is 99.9% likely to work to enter mars orbit. Same for the system to separate those landing system from the orbiter. And for the lander.  Lots of systems

Direct entry from interplanetary trajectory is a proven system that uses an aeroshell and the atmosphere to eliminate most of the velocity. Once you do that you have all the same engineering problems as descent from low orbit. Viking landers entered from mars orbit and then used parachutes and retrorockets

Whether you land 1 ton or 100 every step needs to be rigorously designed and tested.

Offline Negan

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Why not pick a couple of areas of little or no scientific interest and declare them as human reserves and therefore contaminated.  Land all the ships in these areas and venture out from there.
The current NASA planetary protection guidelines AIUI. Doesn't permit Starships, never mind  personnel to landed on the Martian surface. So the concept of reserve zones is moot.

I don't get the same message when listening to Dr. Benardini when he spoke at the 2023 Humans Mars Summit. I really didn't get any kind of blanket restrictions to personal. He very much recognized planetary protection has to work with human missions to Mars. New policies are being developed and could very much allow a possible option for a Starship landing to play a role in MSR.

Offline deltaV

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Starship canít land in/near Gusev Crater because something that big and exposed to Earthís atmosphere before launch will never meet the planetary protection requirements.

Sterilizing most of Starship's exterior when in space seems like it should be non-trivial but doable. From figure 5 in https://dataverse.jpl.nasa.gov/file.xhtml?fileId=54699&version=1.1 you can get sterilization from hundreds of hours at 125 degrees C, ~6 minutes at 200 degrees C or ~1 second at 300 degrees C. Starship's stainless steel can apparently handle ~800 C and is probably designed to reach close to that during orbital reentry (if it doesn't the heat shield tiles are wastefully thick). So orbital reentry will probably heat the majority of the exterior to combinations of time and temperature far beyond what's needed for sterilization (a fact which IIRC Robotbeat has mentioned before). If reentry is not trusted to heat every square millimeter of the top and rear of the vehicle (e.g. if simulations aren't trusted to be accurate) it shouldn't be too hard to apply heat in space to produce a better-controlled heating for sterilization. Heat could be provided by mirrors and sunlight or the infrared lamps that are sometimes used on Earth to sterilize surfaces. (UV sterilization may be another option.)

The hard part of sterilizing Starship (or ensuring microbes won't escape) may be everything other than the steel body and heat shield, e.g. flap mechanisms, electrical cables, engines, and the propellants and propellant handling systems. The propellants seem especially troublesome since commercial off the shelf ground support systems could contaminate them.

Obviously making Starship satisfy planetary protection requirements takes time, money and engineering effort and it's unclear if SpaceX is doing it. I wish we had information on SpaceX's plans around planetary protection.

Quote
If Starship were used for the return trip, the same would apply to a nuclear or solar plant processing Martian CO2 into CH4 propellant.

I suspect sterilizing the items you mentioned and other items such as a sample retrieval rover may be more costly than sterilizing Starship itself simply because there will be a lot more hardware involved.

Offline Zed_Noir

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Why not pick a couple of areas of little or no scientific interest and declare them as human reserves and therefore contaminated.  Land all the ships in these areas and venture out from there.
The current NASA planetary protection guidelines AIUI. Doesn't permit Starships, never mind  personnel to landed on the Martian surface. So the concept of reserve zones is moot.

I don't get the same message when listening to Dr. Benardini when he spoke at the 2023 Humans Mars Summit. I really didn't get any kind of blanket restrictions to personal. He very much recognized planetary protection has to work with human missions to Mars. New policies are being developed and could very much allow a possible option for a Starship landing to play a role in MSR.
Which meant the current policies and planetary protection guidelines does not allow a Starship landing or a crew mission to the Martian surface.

NASA have maybe a window of at the most of about 4 years to come up with new planetary protection guidelines for Mars with people on the surface before a Starship attempts planetfall on Mars. Otherwise things could get messy.

Planetary protection and people on the Martian surface is mostly incompatible, IMO. Since how will the authorities going to enforced planetary protection without endangering crews on the Martian surface needing ISRU resources like ice to survive.

Offline VSECOTSPE

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I've heard that heat is a pretty effective way to sterilize things.

If this is referring to Starship, the method of sterilization isnít the issue.  The issue is maintaining the sterilization.

We use clean rooms, negative pressure, bunny suits, sealed shipping containers, and the like to maintain sterilized spacecraft in their sterilized state.

We canít do that with Starship or any other launch vehicle.  Starship launches outdoors on the Gulf Coast.  Even if we could magically snap our fingers and remove every microscopic biological agent from our MSR Starship the day before launch, our MSR Starship will still gather bacteria descending through the atmosphere, protozoa from sea spray, virii from passing bird poop, spores from the wind, etc.

This isn't true. But go on.

See directly above.

Which may mean that planetary protection expectations need to be revisited.  It seems counterproductive that even robotic exploration is priced out of existence due to planetary protection expectations.

Robotic Mars surface exploration is not priced out of existence or otherwise forbidden by planetary protection.  Thereís no black monolith broadcasting a message like ďall these worlds are yours except this one ó attempt no landing there.Ē

What planetary protection does say is that there are regimes and areas on these planets and moons that are much more likely to harbor signatures of past or present extraterrestrial life ó mainly places that have harbored liquid water in the past or do so today.  We donít want to contaminate these localized environments with Earth biosignatures.  Weíre interested in finding evidence of life the developed outside Earthís biosphere, not life that hitchhiked from Earthís biosphere.

We do this all the time on Earth.  We set aside certain caves, certain glacial lakes, certain hot water springs, and certain other pristine environments because they contain artifacts, lifeforms, geology, etc. that science canít find anywhere else.  Think Neanderthal paintings in French caves, extremophiles in specific subterranean environments, ginormous crystals in hot caves, etc.  We donít want these things contaminated, spoiled, or destroyed before researchers can document and understand them.  So we protect them.

Same goes for certain environments on Mars like Jezero.  But that still leaves lots and lots of real estate on Mars that can receive robotic missions without all the burdens that Perseverance and MSR must meet to operate in and around Jezero.  The differences in bioassays, bioburdens, etc. required for different environments are laid out in the relevant policy:

https://standards.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/standards/NASA/Baseline/0/NASA-STD-871927_Baseline.pdf

The current NASA planetary protection guidelines AIUI. Doesn't permit Starships, never mind  personnel to landed on the Martian surface. So the concept of reserve zones is moot.

Itís not that the standards (linked above) prohibit crewed missions.  They just donít address them.  Itís a hole in the standards, not a prohibition.

And planetary protection standards arenít really the current problem for a SpaceX mission to Mars.  Those can be worked when the time comes.  The current problem is that the federal government has no way to review missions and license launches for spacecraft that are not communications or remote sensing satellites (and maybe a couple other things).  Want to put your own laboratory in LEO?  Thereís no one at the FAA or the Department of Commerce (or wherever) to go to for that.  Same would go for a SpaceX mission to Mars.  Successive administrations and congresses have failed to fix this much larger hole in civil space regulations and right now there are competing proposals from the White House and Senate.  If that doesnít get settled, then thereís a much bigger obstacle than planetary protection.

Using existing NASA cost models for a world 10 years in the future seems unsatisfactory to me.

Several things here:

1) Theyíre not just NASA (or JPL) cost models.  Theyíre USAF, Aerospace Corporation, proprietary industry, etc. models. 

2) These models can spit out cheap spacecraft.  When you dial the knobs in the models to small and/or simple, the costs come down dramatically.  Some of the same models can be used to cost out <$1M spacecraft like StarLink satellites and >$10B spacecraft like JWST.

3) Almost by definition, science spacecraft on the research frontier will tend to be larger and more complex spacecraft.  There may be exceptions if a mission just needs a lot of propellant to get somewhere faraway fast (think Pluto Kuiper Express) or a lot of small, identical spacecraft to observe a distributed phenomenon (think heliophysics constellations).  But generally speaking, we canít dial down the mass and complexity knobs as much as we might want for science spacecraft because in order to do groundbreaking research, we have to push technical boundaries on things like collection areas, instrument precision, spacecraft position and state, sheer amounts or types of data, etc.  Having big, cheap HLVs isnít going to change this.  Itís like saying bigger trucks will make the next supercollider cheaper.  The cost of the next supercollider will be driven by the demands of the research, not how itís shipped.

4) What big, cheap HLVs could enable is other kinds of spacecraft and missions that never made sense from an economic or affordability standpoint before but now sorta do.  Itís hard to know exactly what these things will be, but weíre getting hints of them from things like StarLink, VAST, Varda and maybe even startups like Karman+.  Spacecraft constellations that can move photons around on scales never seen before, much more affordable space stations, and spacecraft that move atoms (meaning physical resources and products) around instead of photons.

Yeah planetary protection seems to be greatly increasing the cost of MSR by making it hard to reuse hardware designed for other tasks such as Starship.

See directly above.

Why are you claiming the samples would be contaminated?

The issue is contaminating Jezero, not the samples.  If MSR finds evidence of life, weíre going to want to go back and understand that extraterrestrial environment and ecosystem in a very deep and detailed way.  Contaminating Jezero with a bunch of biosignatures from Earth will make that job much more difficult, if not impossible.

The sterilizing effects of vacuum, launch, solar radiation in space, and entry into the Martian atmosphere are not to be trusted.

Yes.  Weíre trying to prevent ambiguous results like these below, which were generated by non-sterile spacecraft and meteorites, despite being exposed to harsh space environments:

Quote
As part of the Apollo 12 mission in November 1969, the camera from the Surveyor 3 probe was brought back from the Moon to Earth. On analyzing the camera, it was found that the common bacterium Streptococcus mitis was alive on the camera. NASA reasoned that the camera was not sterilized on Earth before the space probe's launch in April 1967, two and a half years earlier.[1] However, later study showed that the scientists analysing the camera on return to Earth used procedures that were inadequate to prevent recontamination after return to Earth, for instance with their arms exposed, not covering their entire bodies as modern scientists would do. There may also have been possibilities for contamination during the return mission as the camera was returned in a porous bag rather than the airtight containers used for lunar sample return.[2] As a result, the source of the contamination remains controversial.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reports_of_Streptococcus_mitis_on_the_Moon

Quote
Finally, McKay and co-workers need to show that the bacteria-shaped features were not just terrestrial bacteria. The bacteria-shapes in ALH 84001 are too small for direct chemical or biological analysis with the methods McKay and co-workers had available. So, they looked at other Antarctic meteorites, thinking that if bacteria could enter ALH 84001 in Antarctica, bacteria should certainly be present in other meteorites. McKay and co-workers found no evidence of bacteria in other meteorites from the same area where ALH 84001 was discovered, so they conclude that the bacteria-shaped structures in ALH 84001 are not Earth bacteria.

It remains possible that the bacteria shapes are Earth bacteria. Although McKay and colleagues found no bacteria shapes in three other Antarctic meteorites, they caution us that these other meteorites are not exactly like ALH 84001. Particularly, the other meteorites did not contain carbonate mineral grains. If it happened that a kind of Earth bacteria lived only on carbonate minerals, it could grow in ALH 84001 and not in the other meteorites.

https://www.lpi.usra.edu/lpi/meteorites/life.html

why doesn't environmental DNA/RNA analysis (metagenomics) rule out the possibility of mistaking Earth life contamination for Mars life?

Because weíre interested in more than DNA/RNA and because we probably wonít find that anyway.  DNA/RNA decays on the order of millions of years.  Jezero is a multi-billion year old environment.  And even if we found DNA/RNA (or something like it), weíd still be interested in the rest of the biotic or pre-biotic signatures and chemistry.

If reentry is not trusted to heat every square millimeter of the top and rear of the vehicle (e.g. if simulations aren't trusted to be accurate) it shouldn't be too hard to apply heat in space to produce a better-controlled heating for sterilization. Heat could be provided by mirrors and sunlight or the infrared lamps that are sometimes used on Earth to sterilize surfaces. (UV sterilization may be another option.)

The hard part of sterilizing Starship (or ensuring microbes won't escape) may be everything other than the steel body and heat shield, e.g. flap mechanisms, electrical cables, engines, and the propellants and propellant handling systems. The propellants seem especially troublesome since commercial off the shelf ground support systems could contaminate them.

Would require considerable development and testing, would involve pretty complex space operations, and even if possible, unclear how it would all be verified on the actual mission.

If/when push comes to shove, there will be places on Mars that Starship and crews can go without extraordinary schemes like this.  They just wonít be places like Gusev.

« Last Edit: 02/27/2024 08:26 pm by VSECOTSPE »

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