Author Topic: Possible cost-reduction possibilities for the NASA portions of MSR  (Read 49353 times)

Offline deadman1204

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"Commercial" doesn't apply here to a mars lander.
Its not like the moon where a couple governments might buy a few landers over the years (ala artimis). This is a one time thing.
There aren't more other missions eve planned, and there won't be for some time. Funding "multiple companies competing" is just a great way to spend even more money.
This will be a bespoke unique thing. There aren't other rovers on the way to mars to drop off more samples to be fetched.
A lander that can launch a rocket will be a unique one time thing. Magic commecial pixie dust doesn't apply here.

Offline matthewkantar

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Mars transport has potential commercial customers of a sort. If some company offered rides to Mars for scientists, say at a hundred million a head, I think there would be many takers.

Offline deadman1204

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Mars transport has potential commercial customers of a sort. If some company offered rides to Mars for scientists, say at a hundred million a head, I think there would be many takers.
umm..... putting aside all the unsolved problems of actually putting people on mars and keeping them alive, this isn't that.

This is a lander with a built in rocket that can launch from the lander. A VERY unique item.

Online MickQ

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Mars transport has potential commercial customers of a sort. If some company offered rides to Mars for scientists, say at a hundred million a head, I think there would be many takers.
umm..... putting aside all the unsolved problems of actually putting people on mars and keeping them alive, this isn't that.

This is a lander with a built in rocket that can launch from the lander. A VERY unique item.

Whatís unique about that ?? 

I think Buzz and Neil and numerous others might disagree.

Online MickQ

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"Commercial" doesn't apply here to a mars lander.
Its not like the moon where a couple governments might buy a few landers over the years (ala artimis). This is a one time thing.
There aren't more other missions eve planned, and there won't be for some time. Funding "multiple companies competing" is just a great way to spend even more money.
This will be a bespoke unique thing. There aren't other rovers on the way to mars to drop off more samples to be fetched.
A lander that can launch a rocket will be a unique one time thing. Magic commecial pixie dust doesn't apply here.

If/when Starship becomes operational, its ability to deliver 100 tons to Mars surface will make future missions SO much cheaper and easier.

One landing could deliver multiple rovers to deploy in different directions to collect samples and return them to the landing site to be loaded into an mav, or two, delivered on the same Starship.

The stage is set for a massive increase in science missions to Mars due to no longer being constrained by a vague one ton landed mass limit.

IMHO of course.
« Last Edit: 07/17/2023 10:25 pm by MickQ »

Offline VSECOTSPE

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Folks shouldnít pull a Mike Griffin and get wrapped around personal definitions of ďcommercialĒ.  Just forget the word exists.

Whatís important right now is whether alternatives to the current architecture can/will be considered/pursued, under what conditions, and how far.  Is Figueroaís independent review team tasked with and staffed for such work?  Should there be a more in-depth red-team study, maybe led by Bobby Braun/APL?  Per Zurbuchen, the relevant industry players have diversified in number and deepened their capabilities.  Should JPL and HQ do some company visits and go out with an RFI to see whatís in the art of the possible there?

My 2 cents having been to a few of these rodeos over the past quarter-century is that NASA should do some or all of the above before irreversibly committing to a likely very expensive and fragile sole-sourced solution and all the downsides that implies for the rest of the planetary science portfolio.  AAs, PEs, PMs, etc. should always have the creation of viable, desirable alternatives, options, and backups as a top priority. Their job is to accomplish a mission, not to accomplish it in a particular way.

If NASA commits to some/all of the above (a big ďifĒ), it is premature to assume the outcome.

Itís frankly silly to rule out a company like Blue Origin from participation in a lander when theyíve brought New Glenn boosters back from Mach 3 and 100km up over 20 times.  Same goes for ruling out participation by other companies that bring proven expertise in things like terrain avoidance from other planetary science missions.  (Itís also not how federal contracting works in the first place.)  MSR is really tough and will likely take a team effort, so you want to look for best-of-breed wherever those elements may be found.  Some key ones may not be at JPL or LockMart.

Itís frankly silly to rule out multiple sample retrieval visits when the program has two sets of samples, one on Perseverance and one at Three Forks.  Itís frankly silly to rule out multiple visits when, as RadMod pointed out in the other thread, a major contractor is independently throwing billions of dollars at a superheavy lift capability that is intended to put dozens and dozens of tons on Mars every conjunction and could instead put dozens and dozens of tons in low Mars orbit while avoiding planetary protection issues.

Itís frankly silly to rule out multiple competitors when competition on the HSF side has enabled order of magnitude cost reductions vice uncompeted, sole-sourced, and/or in-house solutions like those currently being pursued by MSR.  Itís frankly silly to rule out multiple competitors when downselects could be planned at any point in the mission lifecycle.

The key at this point is to open the trade space and understand if there is anything out there that could make the mission easier technically or reduce the workload at an understaffed JPL.  No one has done that homework yet.  Until itís done, thereís no crystal ball that can reveal the one, true way to execute MSR.

Offline deltaV

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Yeah, I've seen fixed-price contracts be extremely expensive especially when sole-sourced. The contractor will front-load the risk and cost (and profit) to the "cost estimate" phase, which could easily cost just as much as the actual work. You have to have competition (and ideally, cost-sharing) to make it actually better.

Yeah fixed price isn't a magic bullet. A well designed fixed-price procurement can beat cost-plus because of competition, aligning incentives, and sharing fixed costs with other customers. However it's easy to design a fixed-price contract that ticks none of these boxes and is not significantly cheaper than cost-plus. For example if the SLS program decides to buy engines using a sole-source fixed-price contract (IIRC they've considered doing this) they won't tick any of these boxes and are unlikely to get good results.

Offline deadman1204

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Mars transport has potential commercial customers of a sort. If some company offered rides to Mars for scientists, say at a hundred million a head, I think there would be many takers.
umm..... putting aside all the unsolved problems of actually putting people on mars and keeping them alive, this isn't that.

This is a lander with a built in rocket that can launch from the lander. A VERY unique item.

Whatís unique about that ?? 

I think Buzz and Neil and numerous others might disagree.
Right. The bespoke apollo era landers with a military budget. Very commercial. Totally applicable and germaine.

Offline edzieba

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Mars transport has potential commercial customers of a sort. If some company offered rides to Mars for scientists, say at a hundred million a head, I think there would be many takers.
umm..... putting aside all the unsolved problems of actually putting people on mars and keeping them alive, this isn't that.

This is a lander with a built in rocket that can launch from the lander. A VERY unique item.

Whatís unique about that ?? 

I think Buzz and Neil and numerous others might disagree.
Right. The bespoke apollo era landers with a military budget. Very commercial. Totally applicable and germaine.
You mean like the Grumman LM, which they shopped around to various agencies to re-use for other purposes (though only the Apollo Telescope Mount ultimately ended up flying) such as as a manoeuvrable satellite bus for sate-to-sat observations? Then there's S-V, which though it never flew operationally was intimately tied to the development of the Centaur upper stage and the RL-10 engine. Or the AGC, re-used for the first flight tests of fly-by-wire control surface operation and digital flight control law. And so on. Whilst not always successful, every contractor involved in Apollo tried to find other ways to use that hardware and technology.

Offline Jim

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]You mean like the Grumman LM, which they shopped around to various agencies to re-use for other purposes (though only the Apollo Telescope Mount ultimately ended up flying)

The ATM had no LM hardware in it.  When the workshop went dry, the Grumman contract was cancelled.

Offline JulesVerneATV

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Offline ccdengr

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Last week I sat through some very interesting discussions of MSR involving people who actually build and/or manage space programs...
The same people who have run the current program into the ground, or different people?   ;)

Offline Greg Hullender

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Folks who have all the dirt on the project, I expect. :-)

Offline vjkane

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Last week I sat through some very interesting discussions of MSR involving people who actually build and/or manage space programs...
The same people who have run the current program into the ground, or different people?   ;)
These "fools" are the same ones who recognized issues with the current direction and initiated two public early external reviews. Seems like there's someone one competent on the current program.

Stupidity is just doing the same thing when you know you have problems. Good program management is acknowledging your problems early and start working on a new direction. Blackstar is hinting that there's some interesting ideas emerging.

Offline VSECOTSPE

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These "fools" are the same ones who recognized issues with the current direction and initiated two public early external reviews. Seems like there's someone one competent on the current program.

I dunno.

Some administrators at HQ kept an eye on the program and ordered a (second) independent look (Figueroa et al.) when it began to run off the rails (again).  Good.  Much better than old school HSF programs (which isnít saying much, but still).

But these same HQ folks failed to recognize and correct the frankly obviously conflicted lines of reporting for this program and its projects (as reported by Figueroa et al.), something that should be within HQís wheelhouse to recognize and is definitely within HQís wherewithal to correct.  Something they shouldnít need an independent report to figure out and fix.  Definitely not good.

At center/technical level, this program has blown thru $1.7B (per the Senate), and it still hasnít fixed how many samples it will bring back (per Figueroa).  This is basic rocketry.  Practically every design consideration wraps around that sample mass.  The program scientist, program manager, and chief/systems engineer types should have put a stake in the ground on that long ago.  No wonder theyíve been spinning their wheels for so long.  Really bad and inexcusable.  The responsible parties should be taken off the program for that.
« Last Edit: 11/03/2023 08:25 pm by VSECOTSPE »

Offline deltaV

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At center/technical level, this program has blown thru $1.7B (per the Senate), and it still hasnít fixed how many samples it will bring back (per Figueroa.  This is basic rocketry.  Practically every design consideration wraps around that sample mass.  The program scientist, program manager, and chief/systems engineer types should have put a stake in the ground on that long ago.  No wonder theyíve been spinning their wheels for so long.  Really bad and inexcusable.  The responsible parties should be taken off the program for that.

SpaceX changes their mind more than most (e.g. Falcon fairing recovery method, number of people in Dragon, Starship steel or composites) and succeeds more than most. The SLS/Orion designers have not changed their minds much (e.g. Orion's delta vee capability was not revisited after the end of the Altair lunar lander made the previous design bad) and have wasted billions of dollars as a result. This suggests that willingness to change ones mind can be a good thing, not a bad thing. I therefore don't think this is a good focus of criticism of MSR.

The core problem with MSR is it's using development by NASA and monopoly cost plus contractors to solve a problem, namely transporting samples, where success is easy enough to define to be compatible with competitive fixed price contracting.

Offline VSECOTSPE

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SpaceX changes their mind more than most (e.g. Falcon fairing recovery method, number of people in Dragon

Apples and oranges.

Fairings donít drive the design of a launch vehicle.  F9 engines, performance, tankage, structure, avionics, etc. didnít change because SX tried a different fairing.

Reducing the number of crew doesnít fundamentally change the design of a capsule.  Dragonís engines, performance, tankage, structure, avionics, etc. didnít change because NASA only needed four crew per ISS rotation.

However, the size of the Orbiting Sample does drive the design of most everything in MSR.  Per Figueroaís report:

Quote
The mass and volume of the OS is driven by the number of sample tubes it needs to contain, sample integrity and planetary protection requirements, as well as robotic manipulation interfaces with the Sample Transfer Arm (supplied by ESA).

In turn, the mass and volume of the OS drives the size of the Mars Ascent Vehicle (managed by Marshall Space Flight Center.  MAV in turn drives the size and mass of the Sample Return Lander (managed by the Jet Propulsion Lab) and its launch vehicle.

The exterior optical properties of the OS are critical for detectability by the Earth Return Orbiter (supplied by the European Space Agency).

The OS also drives the Capture Containment and Return System in several ways (managed by the Goddard Space Flight Center).

Itís nutty that after $1.7B spent, MSR program leadership has still not pinned the OS down given how it drives the big design decisions for every other major program element.  The responsible folks should be moved out of a decision making role, if not from the program entirely.

The core problem with MSR is it's using development by NASA and monopoly cost plus contractors to solve a problem, namely transporting samples, where success is easy enough to define to be compatible with competitive fixed price contracting.

Thatís not the core problem.  The core problems are laid out in the Figueroa report:

https://www.nasa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/mars-sample-return-independent-review-board-report.pdf

In a prior life, I was the NASA HQ bureaucrat who formulated and started the COTS program, the competitive, fixed-price, public-private partnership model upon which all subsequent major human space flight development projects have been based.  Although I remain advocate for that model or parts of it, even I would be highly skeptical of the use of fixed-price contracts for most MSR elements.  The model works when you want industry to provide a capability more efficiently that the government previously provided or has proven out before, like payload delivery, astronaut transport, and space stations.  MSR involves a number of technical ďfirstsĒ, like launch from the surface of Mars and rendezvous in Mars orbit, which are typically not compatible with a fixed-price structure.  Even without those technical firsts, Iíd still question a fixed-price relationship depending on the degree to which the DSN and/or DOE-supplied nuclear materials are involved.

I do agree with Zurbuchen that JPL should be using industry for the lander development rather than an internal team and that development could benefit from industry outreach and competition.  But that doesnít necessarily equate with a fixed-price contract, either.

Offline Jim

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The core problem with MSR is it's using development by NASA and monopoly cost plus contractors to solve a problem,

Wrong.  Name the contractors and also their cost plus contracts.  And what monopoly?

Offline deltaV

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The core problem with MSR is it's using development by NASA and monopoly cost plus contractors to solve a problem,

Wrong.  Name the contractors and also their cost plus contracts.  And what monopoly?

Lockheed has a "cost-plus-fixed-fee" contract to develop the Mars Ascent Vehicle: https://www.nasa.gov/news-release/nasa-selects-developer-for-rocket-to-retrieve-first-samples-from-mars/. JPL is arguably also a cost plus contractor. Regardless no one involved has much incentive to stay in budget which makes staying in budget a lot less likely. There's only one Mars return system under development currently so I don't see how you can deny the monopoly.

Offline vjkane

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The core problem with MSR is it's using development by NASA and monopoly cost plus contractors to solve a problem,

Wrong.  Name the contractors and also their cost plus contracts.  And what monopoly?

Lockheed has a "cost-plus-fixed-fee" contract to develop the Mars Ascent Vehicle: https://www.nasa.gov/news-release/nasa-selects-developer-for-rocket-to-retrieve-first-samples-from-mars/. JPL is arguably also a cost plus contractor. Regardless no one involved has much incentive to stay in budget which makes staying in budget a lot less likely. There's only one Mars return system under development currently so I don't see how you can deny the monopoly.
So who would you go to?

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