Author Topic: Possible cost-reduction possibilities for the NASA portions of MSR  (Read 44743 times)

Offline Robotbeat

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This is a thread to discuss possible cost reduction measures for NASA‘s portion of the mars sample return mission which may be squeezed between budget cuts and cost over-runs.
« Last Edit: 06/29/2023 09:03 am by Robotbeat »
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Offline Robotbeat

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Here’s a basic overview of some possible approach, mostly leaning on possible commercial landers (CLPS) used for Artemis.
If one were to propose an alternative approach to MSR, there are multiple avenues to choose from:

1) Keep everything the same, but remove unnecessary extra parts like the helicopters and pare down operations.
2) same as #1 but instead of a really high cost conventional contract lander, compete the lander among newer providers, including the likes of Impulse, the various CPLS providers, etc. The ascent vehicle, the canister, the ESA portion, and the return capsule are all the same.

3) but the lander provider also makes the ascent vehicle.

4) the same but the lander provider does direct return to Earth, the only part being the same is the Earth reentry capsule. Not sure how much money there is to save here if ESA is already paying for the capture vehicle which wouldn’t be needed here. Probably cheaper if you include the ESA orbiter as part of the cost. You could do direct-ascent direct to Earth.

5) the entire mission is done by the lander provider, including Earth return reentry.


Options 1-3 seem reasonable to me.

Option 5 is potentially problematic because of the crazy high reliability requirements for the Earth return capsule. They want a basically zero chance of contaminating earth with the Mars samples, so the capsule has to be as simple as possible but simultaneously with the most mission assurance done on it than anything else in the program. I think they’re shooting for not more than a one in a million chance of exposing the Earth to the Mars samples. So that part is going to have the least design freedom for an alternative provider, and it’s not clear they’ll be able to save any money on that part.
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Offline litton4

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Would an Earth orbit return be feasible  - ie return the samples to orbit and then send something up to retrieve them?

I don't know the delta-v requirements for that, but possibly partially offset by not needing a heat shield and secure containment can be provided by the return vehicle.
Dave Condliffe

Offline Jim

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Here’s a basic overview of some possible approach, mostly leaning on possible commercial landers (CLPS) used for Artemis.
If one were to propose an alternative approach to MSR, there are multiple avenues to choose from:

1) Keep everything the same, but remove unnecessary extra parts like the helicopters and pare down operations.
2) same as #1 but instead of a really high cost conventional contract lander, compete the lander among newer providers, including the likes of Impulse, the various CPLS providers, etc. The ascent vehicle, the canister, the ESA portion, and the return capsule are all the same.

3) but the lander provider also makes the ascent vehicle.

4) the same but the lander provider does direct return to Earth, the only part being the same is the Earth reentry capsule. Not sure how much money there is to save here if ESA is already paying for the capture vehicle which wouldn’t be needed here. Probably cheaper if you include the ESA orbiter as part of the cost. You could do direct-ascent direct to Earth.

5) the entire mission is done by the lander provider, including Earth return reentry.


Options 1-3 seem reasonable to me.

Option 5 is potentially problematic because of the crazy high reliability requirements for the Earth return capsule. They want a basically zero chance of contaminating earth with the Mars samples, so the capsule has to be as simple as possible but simultaneously with the most mission assurance done on it than anything else in the program. I think they’re shooting for not more than a one in a million chance of exposing the Earth to the Mars samples. So that part is going to have the least design freedom for an alternative provider, and it’s not clear they’ll be able to save any money on that part.

Number #1 is not viable.   It assumes that Perseverance remains operational.

Offline Don2

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If you think Starship is going to work then you could cancel the current MSR effort and wait for Starship to mature. The money that is saved could go to fully fund other science priorities like Uranus orbiter, Dragonfly, NF5, Veritas, Davinci, NEO Surveyor, the Roman telescope and some astrophysics probes.

When Starship lands astronauts on the moon NASA can cancel SLS and use some of the money saved to hire SpaceX to do MSR.

Ingenuity type helicopters could be used to load the Mars samples onto Starship after it lands. I'm not sure how you get them back to Earth though.

Offline Jeff Lerner

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Sort of no. 1…Do away with collecting the Perseverance samples….for now…

Lander carries core drill…drills down collects sample, loads sample into direct return rocket with OSIRIS-REx type return capsule…

Those Perseverance samples aren’t going anywhere …KISS principle gets a Mars sample as quickly and cheaply as possible .

Offline Don2

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Lander carries core drill…drills down collects sample, loads sample into direct return rocket with OSIRIS-REx type return capsule…

I read a study that looked at direct return, and the extra delta-v doubled the mass of the rocket needed to get off Mars. That will double the mass of the lander needed. It would be worse than that because some of the hardware needed for Earth return and planetary protection stays in Mars orbit in the Earth Return Orbiter. In a direct return scenario that would have to go down to the surface.

Offline Robotbeat

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Lander carries core drill…drills down collects sample, loads sample into direct return rocket with OSIRIS-REx type return capsule…

I read a study that looked at direct return, and the extra delta-v doubled the mass of the rocket needed to get off Mars. That will double the mass of the lander needed. It would be worse than that because some of the hardware needed for Earth return and planetary protection stays in Mars orbit in the Earth Return Orbiter. In a direct return scenario that would have to go down to the surface.
Maybe mass just isn't a good proxy for cost tho. This is 2023, launch costs (at least internally) are just as low as what they were projected for RLVs like the X-33. We're in a different regime where maybe you can drastically reduce costs by making a trade for greater simplicity.
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Offline deltaV

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NASA has two sets of samples, a main set that's staying on Perseverance rover and a backup set that's been dropped. It seems reasonable for NASA to make fixed-price contracts with two companies, each of which would retrieve one of the two sets of samples. This way even if one of the contractors messes up some samples are still returned.

This has at least two advantages over the cost-plus program of record.

The first advantage is it would eliminate the risk of MSR cost overruns messing up the rest of the planetary budget. NASA would know fairly early if the bids were too high and if needed could cancel or delay MSR before much money was spent.

The second advantage is it could be cheaper. This is partly because capitalism is more efficient than communism and partly because it would let the MSR program share fixed and development costs with other Mars programs such as SpaceX's and Impulse's.

Online MickQ

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Starship is going to Mars.  The first few will not leave the planet again so one of them could carry a decent sized direct return MAV on a gantry that swings out of the cargo bay.  Just have to get the samples up to be loaded and then launch straight off the gantry.

Doable ??

Offline Zed_Noir

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Starship is going to Mars.  The first few will not leave the planet again so one of them could carry a decent sized direct return MAV on a gantry that swings out of the cargo bay.  Just have to get the samples up to be loaded and then launch straight off the gantry.

Doable ??
Simpler just to install the MAV in a pod/cold gas launch tube that is strapped to the Starship exterior. Think either solid or hypergolic propulsion could work with the MAV.

Access to the MAV is through access hatch between the pod and the Starship.

Launch method is the traditional cold gas silo launch common to strategic ballistic missiles.

Offline freddo411

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Lander carries core drill…drills down collects sample, loads sample into direct return rocket with OSIRIS-REx type return capsule…

I read a study that looked at direct return, and the extra delta-v doubled the mass of the rocket needed to get off Mars. That will double the mass of the lander needed. It would be worse than that because some of the hardware needed for Earth return and planetary protection stays in Mars orbit in the Earth Return Orbiter. In a direct return scenario that would have to go down to the surface.

To make this a valid comparison you'd also want to consider the mass, cost and complexity in the needed Mars orbiter, and the mass and complexity of any needed rendezvous hw on the MAV.   

Recall that no one has ever done an unmanned rendezvous and docking beyond Earth orbit before.

As Robotbeat points out below, we are in a regime where optimizing for minimum mass is not the best design choice.

Offline Robotbeat

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China did it at the Moon, actually, for their lunar sample return mission.
Chris  Whoever loves correction loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

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Offline Don2

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I read a study that looked at direct return, and the extra delta-v doubled the mass of the rocket needed to get off Mars. That will double the mass of the lander needed. It would be worse than that because some of the hardware needed for Earth return and planetary protection stays in Mars orbit in the Earth Return Orbiter. In a direct return scenario that would have to go down to the surface.
Maybe mass just isn't a good proxy for cost tho. This is 2023, launch costs (at least internally) are just as low as what they were projected for RLVs like the X-33. We're in a different regime where maybe you can drastically reduce costs by making a trade for greater simplicity.

The problem is that if you get much larger than 2 tons then you can't use Viking heritage systems anymore. Viking was very expensive to develop and Mars landings have been living off that legacy.

As you continue to scale up you reach a point where parachutes are no longer useful and now you need new concepts like supersonic retropropulsion, inflatable heatshields or much larger aeroshells. Developing and testing that is potentially very expensive.

Parachute testing uses sounding rockets. Some of the testing in the past used rockets launched from high altitude balloons. Those tests were expensive. Maybe some of the new space companies could provide lower cost testing services for EDL hardware. Parachute tests require getting a 1 ton mass to Mach 3 at 120,000 ft. A modified version of a small launch vehicle might be able to handle that.

For testing a large aeroshell for Mars maybe you could use the first stage of a Falcon 9 without the second stage. That should be able to handle an aeroshell up to 5m diameter which would allow you to test supersonic retropropulsion and maybe even a pinpoint soft landing on Earth.

Maybe you could get some data on supersonic retropropusion by funding Firefly, Antares or Rocketlab to attempt a boost back burn like SpaceX does and see if the results match model predictions.

However, even with help from new space developing a whole new EDL system for Mars is still going to be slow and expensive.

Offline Robotbeat

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Supersonic retropropulsion is super well characterized now, though. You can use propulsive landing and no parachutes (other than a drogue or ballute for good separation). Heck, you could skip the aeroshell even, and just brute force propulsive land all the way from low Mars orbit to the surface.

The delta-v from low mars orbit to the surface mostly propulsively is very close to the delta-v from TLI through to the surface of the Moon.
« Last Edit: 06/30/2023 08:14 pm by Robotbeat »
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Offline jstrotha0975

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Why not combine the MSR program with the Starship program. A human will be on Mars between 10 and 15 years from now anyway. Why such a rush all of the sudden to bring back ounces of dust and rocks when a human rated Starship could bring back hundreds of pounds?

Offline Don2

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Why not combine the MSR program with the Starship program. A human will be on Mars between 10 and 15 years from now anyway.

Not everybody believes Starship will work. And is the 10-15 years you quote in regular time or Elon time?

In 2019 they were looking at using a hybrid solid and a regular solid for the MAV. This pdf describes both options.
https://ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/20190002133/downloads/20190002133.pdf

This report looks at both the mars orbit rendezvous and direct to Earth return options and gives the MAV mass requires. For 20kg to orbit needs an MAV mass of 312.5kg (p.23 Table 2). 20kg to escape requires an MAV mass of 758kg (p.25 Table 3) . This study was based on a pump fed hypergolic engine, the XLR-132 with an Isp of 347 seconds.
https://ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/20140011316/downloads/20140011316.pdf

I'll try to post some more reports later.

Offline Eric Hedman

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Why not combine the MSR program with the Starship program. A human will be on Mars between 10 and 15 years from now anyway. Why such a rush all of the sudden to bring back ounces of dust and rocks when a human rated Starship could bring back hundreds of pounds?
When it gets closer to sending people, I think concerns will be raised over the possibility of bringing back pathogens.  NASA is going to build a sample receiving facility which will be a high level bio-containment facility near the MSR return site in Utah.  There might be concerns about sending humans before at least some testing of Mars soil for life has been done at a greater level of certainty than has been done on the probes since Viking 1 and 2.

Offline Don2

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I wonder if something like the Red Dragon mission could be revived as a way to get a MAV to Mars. It promised a payload of 1 ton to the surface. The MAV currently weighs around 400kg. I don't remember why it was abandoned. I wonder what a technology demonstration would cost?
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SpaceX_Red_Dragon
https://spaceflightnow.com/2017/07/19/propulsive-landings-nixed-from-spacexs-dragon-spaceship/

Paper about the advances in supersonic retropropulsion resulting from SpaceX's work with Falcon 9.
https://ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/20170008725/downloads/20170008725.pdf

Old paper by Braun and Manning discussing the limits of Mars EDL technology as of 2007.
http://svn.developspace.net/svn/minmars/references/Braun_Paper_on_Mars_EDL.pdf

Offline Don2

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Red Dragon was studied for sample return. A concept was developed with launch of an unspecified MAV from Mars which would return the sample to lunar orbit. Once there the sample would be packaged for planetary protection purposes and Earth return.
https://ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/20140008536/downloads/20140008536.pdf

Leonard David story from Space.com. Claims 2 tons to the surface.
https://www.space.com/24984-spacex-mars-mission-red-dragon.html

Eric Berger story from 2017 about the end of Red Dragon. The article quotes Musk as saying, "The reason we decided not to pursue that heavily is that it would have taken a tremendous amount of effort to qualify that for safety for crew transport" .
https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/07/spacex-appears-to-have-pulled-the-plug-on-its-red-dragon-plans/

Given that there are two payloads, MSR and the Exomars rover that need an affordable ride to Mars, it might be worth taking another look at these old Red Dragon plans. Unlike Starship, the Dragon capsule and Falcon Heavy are both working well right now.

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