Author Topic: Possible cost-reduction possibilities for the NASA portions of MSR  (Read 104541 times)

Offline thespacecow

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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!

There're fairly simple engineering solutions to this scenario, starting with adding disposable caps/covers to the hot-stage ring openings, similar to those covers on Falcon 9 fairing vent holes.

It is my belief that a lot of planetary protection concerns can be solved fairly easily and cheaply, there just need to be an effort put into it. It's possible some planetary protection rules will also need to be revised, as PPIRB suggested, in order to allow Starship landing on Mars, possibly even inside special regions. Again, just need both sides to work on this, it's no different from the Starlink brightness issue, if both sides work together it's not some huge showstopper.
« Last Edit: 02/26/2024 11:58 am by thespacecow »

Offline deltaV

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It is my belief that a lot of planetary protection concerns can be solved fairly easily and cheaply, there just need to be an effort put into it. It's possible some planetary protection rules will also need to be revised, as PPIRB suggested, in order to allow Starship landing on Mars, possibly even inside special regions. Again, just need both sides to work on this, it's no different from the Starlink brightness issue, if both sides work together it's not some huge showstopper.

Many concerns can be fairly easily solved but how do you avoid contamination via the propellants? Human eggs are routinely preserved with liquid nitrogen so some life can obviously survive in cryogenic temperatures. One could sterilize the propellants before liquification but then all the propellant ground support equipment would need expensive sterilization too. One could potentially sterilize the propellants using radiation right before loading but (i) I don't know if sterilization by radiation could practically scale to the needed mass flow rate and (ii) the radiation might warm the propellant up too much (dunno).

I'm tentatively convinced now that commercial return of the Gusev Jezero samples (i.e. the main subject of this thread) probably isn't viable because planetary protection makes it too difficult to use off the shelf hardware and high contractor profits if things go well would be politically problematic. Once MSR is done and the samples are analyzed on Earth we may be able to use the science we learn to relax planetary protection requirements for future missions. In the interim SpaceX can hopefully land elsewhere on Mars and return other (probably less useful) samples, we just can't get the official Gusev Jezero samples back using off the shelf hardware.

However it's possible that SpaceX or someone else does have a viable solution to planetary protection problems so NASA should probably ask industry to confirm via an RFI that there aren't any good solutions before spending more billions on non-commercial MSR.
« Last Edit: 02/27/2024 01:35 am by deltaV »

Offline DanClemmensen

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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!
There're fairly simple engineering solutions to this scenario, starting with adding disposable caps/covers to the hot-stage ring openings, similar to those covers on Falcon 9 fairing vent holes.
This was a thought experiment to allow folks to visualize the problem, not an actual scenario. When worrying about bacteria, you need to think about all of the gaps between all of the tiles among many other portions of the outer surface of the SS, plus all of the surfaces inside the payload bay.

I just do not think that it makes any sense at all to try to prevent any chance of contamination of the entire planet.

Offline deadman1204

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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.
NASA has no reason to rush. Its gonna be at least 4 years before lunar starship is going (and thats WAY easier than mars). More to the point though - spacex cannot legally get a launch license to send starship to land on mars. The government cannot issue one due to planetary protection rules. Musk would never risk spacex by doing this without a license. Starship exists to dump starlinks into orbit. Everything else is fan fiction. Investors are paying billions for starlink, not twitter pictures of mars colonies.
If he launches without a license, he would jeprodize all starship launches - which jeprodizes starlink. Say what you like, but starship cannot go to mars until nasa gives the ok. Musk has zero power here.
« Last Edit: 02/26/2024 03:39 pm by deadman1204 »

Offline RedLineTrain

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Starship exists to dump starlinks into orbit.

No.

Offline deadman1204

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Starship exists to dump starlinks into orbit.

No.
Then why is it optimzed only to put large amounts of mass into very low LEO. It needs to refuel alot to do anything else. Sounds to me like it wasn't designed to go to mars.

Edit: We're just falling into the cultish pixie dust starship solves all problems, and anything like rules, laws, reality that stand in the way is bad. That magic school bus which will do everything, and all the other problems will vanish because starship!
« Last Edit: 02/26/2024 03:41 pm by deadman1204 »

Offline RedLineTrain

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You are confusing the ends with the means.

Offline deadman1204

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You are confusing the ends with the means.
Am I? Judging from this thread, the ends is "have starship involved".
Still waiting for how ALL the problems of simply landing starship on mars solves more problems than it solves.

Offline matthewkantar

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Planetary protection is a windmill to tilt at. The measures taken for returning Apollo missions were fig leaves. Swabbing of sterilized spacecraft turn up beasties every time.

If one of the samples came home tomorrow with DNA in it, does anyone think that would be a slam dunk detection of life on Mars? No, it would be assumed to be contamination. Science is going to have to be able to discern the difference between Mars life and Earth life in any case.

Efforts to maintain Mars’ virginity are futile and should be abandoned. Efforts to keep Mars ick off of Earth are another story, but ultimately similarly futile.

Offline Eric Hedman

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Efforts to keep Mars ick off of Earth are another story, but ultimately similarly futile.
That is assuming there even is any Mars ick which is yet to be determined.

Online Blackstar

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I just do not think that it makes any sense at all to try to prevent any chance of contamination of the entire planet.

That is not the requirement.

Online Blackstar

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Efforts to maintain Mars’ virginity are futile and should be abandoned.

That is not the requirement.


Offline Don2

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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.

I've seen that argument from a lot of people. I have never seen an explanation of why that is true given modern DNA sequencing and genetic analysis capabilities.

I have read a lot about MSR, but haven't really dug into all the planetary protection stuff. Maybe the answers are out there, but I just haven't found them. With that said, I'll explain some of the things that puzzle me.

The first thing is that they do not seem to be taking a lot of planetary protection credit for the sturdy sealed sample tubes. You might think that those titanium tubes would solve a lot of planetary protection problems. However, the no parachute landing ends in a high-g impact which can potentially break the tube seals.

The second thing is that modern DNA sequencing technology is capable of distinguishing biological samples from different individuals of the same species. People are convicted on the basis of DNA evidence. It can also tell different species apart, and estimate how long ago those species diverged from a common ancestor. It seems very likely to me that DNA sequencing could conclusively tell the difference between Earth life and Mars life.

Even if DNA sequencing was not used, there would likely be many biochemical differences between Earth organisms and Martian ones. They quite likely never shared a common ancestor. And differences in the environments would tend to favor different biochemical pathways. There is a precedent for this. In the 1970s in was noticed that some bacteria found in extreme environments had many biochemical differences from others. These differences were so significant that eventually they split the bacteria into two entirely separate groups, the prokaryotes and the archaea.

So I think any contamination from Earth could be easily recognized, and it would be on the surfaces of the Martian rocks and not on the inside.

Offline Don2

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The issue is contaminating Gusev, not the samples. 

There are a lot of errors and misconceptions in this thread, but this one is particularly bad. Gusev Crater was the landing site for the Spirit rover. Perseverance landed at Jezero Crater, which is thousands of miles away from Gusev.

Online Negan

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Remember the cargo pods on the bottom of Starship. I wonder if that's still a possibility. Maybe Starship could hoover enough to drop off the pod(s), throttle up, and shoot its dirty butt far away from the site.

Offline Don2

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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?

It would help a little, but not much. There is no system to get a 150t payload from orbit to the surface of Mars. Any such system will be expensive to develop. Most Starship advocates would probably suggest using Starship to do the job.

Even if other parts of the Starship project work, developing a Mars landing capable version of Starship will not be quick or cheap. SpaceX will probably crash the first couple of attempts. They can only refly once every two years.

You still have to develop a Mars ascent vehicle, an earth return orbiter and an earth entry vehicle, and satisfy the planetary protection concerns.

(There are two areas of planetary protection. Forward planetary protection is the Earth -> Mars one.  Backward planetary protection is the Mars -> Earth issue. Backward planetary protection is causing a lot of trouble for the current MSR effort. They will be required to have an option to miss Earth and throw the sample away into deep space if the backward planetary protection requirements are not satisfied.)
« Last Edit: 02/27/2024 01:38 am by Don2 »

Offline Dalhousie

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They will be required to have an option to miss Earth and throw the sample away into deep space if the backward planetary protection requirements are not satisfied.

Do you have a source for this requirement??
Apologies in advance for any lack of civility - it's unintended

Offline matthewkantar

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If there is any chance at all of a Mars organism impacting the Earth’s ecosystem, dropping a sample through the atmosphere at ballistic speed should not be contemplated. The reality is that smart people know there is no risk, real or imagined.

Planetary protectors are niche Luddites.

Offline Don2

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If there is any chance at all of a Mars organism impacting the Earth’s ecosystem, dropping a sample through the atmosphere at ballistic speed should not be contemplated. The reality is that smart people know there is no risk, real or imagined.

Planetary protectors are niche Luddites.

There's always a risk. If any risk is unacceptable, then the mission can not be flown.

Offline Don2

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They will be required to have an option to miss Earth and throw the sample away into deep space if the backward planetary protection requirements are not satisfied.

Do you have a source for this requirement??

I've seen this explained somewhere, but I can't find that now. This document on Mars Sample Return Safety does refer to it.

"Special Care Before, During, and After Landing
The trajectory of the return orbiter carrying the EES would be pointed away from Earth until a few days before the planned landing, allowing a final decision to be made about proceeding with Earth entry using all available information collected during the entire mission. "
https://mars.nasa.gov/internal_resources/1489/

Also, in the lower right corner of the "MSR Campaign Planning Overview"  attached below it shows "Avoid Earth" as an option. That is from a presentation on meeting planetary protection requirements.
https://www.nationalacademies.org/documents/embed/link/LF2255DA3DD1C41C0A42D3BEF0989ACAECE3053A6A9B/file/D3366A90DE4C05A94FAB96D25EA17DECADF7D1FE4E0C?noSaveAs=1

Another slide in that presentation states that "72% of science investigations concerning geological phenomena...can be performed on sterilized samples" and that "14% of science investigations concerning the presence of (mostly molecular) biosignatures can be performed on sterilized samples. (see MSPG-2)" It seems that they plan to sterilize a lot of samples before releasing them from the sample return facility. Maybe heat sterilizing the whole sample before Earth arrival isn't such a bad idea after all.
« Last Edit: 02/27/2024 04:31 am by Don2 »

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