MEPAG meeting in Crystal City - Live Blog - Day One

Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group Meeting

The meeting is now underway. Ongoing live commentary is posted below.

Tomorrow there will be a session about discussions between SMD and ESMD about how science fits into NASA's exploration architecture.

Doug McCuistion

Presenting Mars Program Director's comments. Looking backwards to 2006 it seemed pretty tumultuous. yet, we had one incredible year. We have a great fleet - until MGS failed. Phoenix is doing Ok. We had some concerns with it but that is coming along well. MSL is now established and is in Phase C - design work is moving along. CDR is this summer.

7-month process for MMRTG - public comments etc, regarding the ability to fly a nuclear power source on MSL is confirmed and the letter is signed- ahead of schedule. Solar power is no longer an option and nuclear power is what we are flying.

We will have embedded sensors in the heat shield for MSL to characterize the entry environment. This is funded by ESMD. This will help human exploration folks and planetary community as well.

MRO has its positives and negatives - we were happy with the Phoenix landing site - until MRO found boulders there.

Scout selection for the 2011 launch opportunity was announced yesterday - Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission (MAVEN) and the Great Escape mission were selected for further development.

We've lost MGS - but with the great announcement about water discoveries I guess an Irish wake was appropriate.

We had a good year for public relations. MRO, rover movie, events on Capitol Hill, and Car & Driver magazine. I was stunned. They had a really nice article on the rovers.

We made panning progress - this decade's mission set is stable and progressing - and the next decades planning is complete and is being executed. The only fly in the ointment is the Continuing Resolution - we do not have a 2007 budget and we may have to spend at 06 levels, This CR could result in $500 million lower than original 07 request.

Every dollar we spend on overruns - when our budgets are no longer fat and robust - means that it has to come form somewhere else - from someone else's budget. make sure you understand your schedules and budgets. We do not know what the Phoenix impact will be on the budget . We did some budget swaps - we took some 07 money from another mission and we will pay it back in 2010 and 2011. We are lucky we did that - that was a good decision - if we did not do that the 2011 Scout might have been the 2013 Scout.

We normally keep reserves at 5%. With budget cuts this is now 2%. This represents the program's flexibility. In 2008 our total budget goes down about 10%. The thin working margin gets a little thinner. but R&A also increases a bit - and we will try and grow that. MSL goes down in 2008. 2007 is MSL's biggest year.

The Next Decade Plan held up well until these budget cuts. We made it through the rough portion of getting our budget whacked by $3 billion. We had to relook at the budget since there were a lot of things we cannot afford.

Mars Science Orbiter (2013) will be defined this year. ESA's Aurora program has a sample return mission in late next decade. So how our mission and theirs marry up. I think that the most rational way to pull this off is in a collaborative fashion.

We did Mars human precursor activities in 2004/2005. This year there will be another humans to Mars study conducted by ESMD. We will put a formal organization in place to focus SOMD and ESMD interaction. What's in it for us? New technology, new parachutes, sensors. There may be some additional missions that ESMD sees as being necessary that we can participate in.

Congress required that we produce a science plan with missions in it. (Audience member: plan has gone to OMB).

Audience question about cooperation with ESMD - and robotic precursor missions. It is possibly better for us to implement such missions. Working together closely is important so that we do not break the current Mars program that we have.

Mike Wargo - you will want to listen to Mark Lee's talk tomorrow - and the connection between lunar activities and moving forward to Mars. This will describe how ESMD will move forward with robotic needs.

John McNamee, Mars Exploration Program

Program level status of operating missions and missions under development.

Phoenix - the spacecraft is built, and is fully integrated. Fully functional software has been delivered. Waiting for some radar hardware. Large portion of environmental test program completed - including cruise vacuum testing. Surface thermal/vacuum is all that remains. Ship in the middle of May. launch window opens on 3 August. First images form landing site by MRO were frightening. We think we now have viable landing sites with suitable rock distribution. The radar has received a huge amount of attention. What we thought was a system we could not make work - now think we have something that will perform adequately -0 if not perfectly - fro Entry, descent and landing.

MRO - returned same amount of data thus far as Mars Odyssey delivered in 5 years.

Have we found Sojourner, Rob Manning?

Rob Manning: "maybe".

Pathfinder's heatshield was shattered upon impact. Parachute was shredded. We were very close to the line of failure.

MER - winter is over. Power levels are rising. Spirit is seeing increased dust levels - but this is survivable. Starting operations again. Health of rovers is the same as it was 9 months ago. All indications are that these things are just going to continue to do great science on the surface of Mars.

Mars Odyssey - second extended mission. 4 terabits of science data thus far.

MGS - 2 Nov lost telemetry. Error messages on solar array gimbals received. Tried to image with Mars Express and MRO. No definitive indication that we found spacecraft. Have a tem looking at failure mode. We have some indication of what happened. Want to feed lessons learned into operation of other spacecraft at Mars. Close out activities will continue in May 2007.

MGS completed 34,202 orbits and returned 25,528 images during 10 years of operations at Mars. Final news form MGS showed that water may still be flowing on/near the surface of mars.

We think that failure that a software load we sent up in June of last year was the cause. This software tried to synch up two flight processors. Two addresses were incorrect - two memory addresses were over written. As the geometry evolved. We drove the arrays against a hard stop and the spacecraft went into safe mode. The radiator for the battery pointed at the sun, the temperature went up, and battery failed. But this should be treated as preliminary.

Michael Meyer

Two Mars Scout missions selected. Each awarded $2 million FY 06 to conduct Phase A concept studies. Both are aeronomy missions. This clears the books for what we will not do in 2013. We wish we could do both but will have to pick one. We wanted to do this in 2013 for twice the price. Pleased to get two such good aeronomy proposals.

Question: Scout class missions were originally conceived to fill gaps after new discoveries. By pre-selected science for this round of scouts you have possibly removed to chance to build upon discoveries made by MRO.

Meyer: we are working in a constrained budget environment. We decided to go ahead with planning for a rainy day.

Steve Sqyures: the nature of rover missions is such that it requires interactive operations with well-informed missions. With MER we selected scientists 2 years before launch so that they can become familiar with spacecraft operations and instrument calibration. I think getting MSL scientists selected a year or two before launch would bring similar benefits to that mission.

Dave Beatty

We need to convene a team of people to work on program planning. Looking to perhaps start the activity at the 7th international Mars Conference at Caltech in July. Mike Griffin has said that he wants 2007 to be the year for planning to send humans to Mars.

Things that could be done on Mars: "Safe on Mars" payload i.e. hazards which might confront humans; putting another orbital camera in place as a back up to those already in orbit; orbital geophysics; a landed geophysics package; a networking node.

MEPAG goals document now in its fourth edition. In 2001 the original version was published. In 2004 a major revision was made. 2005 and 2006 saw minor updates. Since 2004 we have learned a lot about Mars. it is time to reconsider strategies and priorities. The 7th Mars Conference is a good watching point to consolidate our paradigms about Mars.

Humans to Mars - 2007 is the "Year of Mars". Mike Griffin wants this planning to happen on 2007. Jeff Volosin and myself are organizing this. Doug Cooke and Doug McCuistion are on the steering committee. Progress needs to happen by February. I am meeting with Jeff Volosin this week. We need to see who else needs to be involved in this.

McCuiston: Uncertainty with Congressional CR and CEV, Orion, Shuttle fly-out costs. The community needs to rally behind planning and process of defining 2013 mission. The sooner we do this the more solid the program will be.

Bruce Jakosky: is Mars Sample Return over the planning horizon and should we not be thinking about it?

Dave Beatty: Depending how budget shapes up. For now - yes.

Michael Meyer: Due to money problems in 2007 and 2008 we do not have money to do required up front technology for those missions. We expect by 2009 we can put money back into sample return. That puts it in the 2020 time frame.


Bernard Geldzahker DSN Future Plans and Mars

Moving away from single missions to multiple, coordinated missions. Missions will require much more data. DSN being upgraded to handle performance increase of up to 1,000,000 fold.

Next Gen DSN is being positioned to eventually be part of a networked system that operates offworld i.e. Earth-relay satellites, Lunar relay satellites, and Mars relay satellites. TDRSS replenishment is needed. Two will be replaced. Small aperture receive arrays will replace DSN's current large arrays; NASA will coordinate Moon/Mars spectrum with international community.

Aggregates of small arrays allow greater redundancy and lower mission risk. If you lose some small dishes in an array you still retain functionality. If you lose a single large dish, you lose all communications capability. These arrays also offer increased resiliency and decreased fragility; increased data return, increased navigation precision, and reduced constraints on operations and maintenance, and manufacturing.

Looking at Mars Science Orbiter (MSO) as a possible testbed for flying new technologies such as 100-200W Ka band transmitter; 5 meter small deployable antenna, low density parity check error correcting codes, and delay/disruption tolerant communications.

We are on the OMB high-risk list so we are likely to get some money or someone may be directed to spend some money.

John Rummel - Astrobiology

Program status: budget cut by 50% over a year. From $62 down to $31 million. ROSES 05 NRA proposals solicited but not selected. Two out of three years' funding jeopardized. NASA Astrobiology Institute got great proposals but none were selected. As a result NAI shrunk from 16-12 members.

Due to cuts, Astrobiology is now (back) at its FY 2001 funding level. Notional current Astrobiology budget: $9 million for exobiology and evolutionary biology, NAI - $12.5 million, ASTID and ASTEP - $9.8 million. Still operating under FY 2006 levels due to CR.

ESMD needs this program. Rummel seeks to re-establish programmatic basis for Astrobiology within NASA's overall research portfolio. NASA was established as a cross-cutting theme in the 2006 SMD Science Plan. Looking to revisit and recast strategic underpinnings of the program working with GSFC as the lead. NAI is continuing under reduced funding.

Cooperate Agreement Notice planned for FY 2008.

ASTID and ASTEP are being reformulated to link to future flight opportunities and the VSE. ASTID funding will continue at a lower level. ASTEP funding will continue at current level. A new effort in Astrobiology small payloads will be based on CubeSat-sized payloads on small launch vehicles and building toward suitcase deployable Astrobiology payloads on human missions. Rummel wants to build a formal relationship with ESMD. Wants to get "space station class research done - without the space station". Mars is important to Astrobiology. NRC is working to update an Astrobiology strategy document.

Steve Squyres - Mars Rover Update

Rovers have survived their third terrestrial year - and their second Mars winter. All non-mechanical subsystems functioning normally. Less 57Co in the Mossbauer Spectrometers. This means ~80 hour integration times instead of previous 5 hour integration times.

Spirit's right front wheel does not turn. We now do 5-wheel driving. When we drive backwards up a hill, that broken wheel drags. As such, our mountaineering days are over - no more hill climbing for Spirit. Grind heads for RAT are worn down - but still can brush rocks.

Opportunity - right front steering actuator not operating. Recent development - RAT encode that tells software whether heads are turning starting to send back bad data. Grind motor is working fine. Need to make adjustment to grinding algorithm to fix this. All science sysems are fully functional.

Needed to park Spirit at a safe location - therefore had to move through Home Plate fast. Parked rover at Low Ridge - able to get enough power to survive winter. Going back to Home Plate. We do not know how widespread this sort of material is. Thus far indications point to some explosive process. Looks like material is similar to vesicular basalts.

These rovers are good landers. We were forced to sit still for long periods of time. Forced us to develop a winter campaign. McMurdo panorama captured at full resolution by Spirit while rover over wintered. Best surface panorama yet captured - or likely to be captured by either rover. By staring at whitish material (salts) on surface for a long period of time - color may have changed,

Found two more metallic meteorites. Did detailed soil analysis as well. Soil rich in hematite and Zinc. Also measured Calcium and Sulfur - found in 1:1 molar ratio. Since winter is when best water ice clouds form, able to do a good cloud survey.

What is next for Spirit. Planning is driving by images collected at campaign site. Using MRO imagery able to see things not visible from Spirit or MGS. Oval shaped feature that looks like a potential volcanic vent is close by.

Opportunity - as we traversed we started to see rocks that had no blueberries- hematite concretions. This was interesting. Then we got into the annulus of Victoria crater found blueberries again. We think that as we went south, we went slightly uphill - different layers of sediment. Think that ground water rises to a certain level, and leaves blueberries as it retreats. Then Aeolian erosion removes material. Then Victoria crater formed, excavated lower layers, and blueberries are found in ejecta blanket. We want to see, as we go into the crater, if concentrations of blueberries change - allow hypothesis to be tested.

MRO image of Victoria and Opportunity was obtained and swiftly delivered to MER team to allow real time planning of drive to find a good entrance point. Driving around crater now. Able to see stratigraphy inside crater. Able to see pre-impact surface and then see jumbled impact breccia with ejecta blocks above that layer. Seeing lateral variations in short distances that are indicative of Aeolian deposition in crater walls.

Compared inside of crater to sandstone features in Zion National Park (showed an insert of his rock hammer for scale).

Elemental chemistry of a rock is similar to a small pebble called Barberton, a 3 cm pepple found near Endurance crater. This may be meteoritic debris.

Opportunity is doing great in terms of power - 600 watts. We are going to continue our clockwise rim traverse for a while. Not going to go all the way around. Need to put together a diagram as to how stratigraphy varies. As we go we are doing two things. Looking at alcoves for entrance/exit routes. One entrance point is at Duck bay - other at Bottomless Bay. Both may be adequate egress routes. We are also waiting for seasons to change for sun to move south so that when we enter alcoves we have enough power to do science on our way down.

HiRise just finished stereo mapping. Now have our first good digital elevation model. Looking to avoid dune field as we enter the crater - that is a rover trap. We had 7 meters of stratigraphy to examine in Endurance. We have three or four times that in Victoria.

Agustin Chicarro - Mars Express

Still looking to image gaps in surface coverage. Operating in first extended mission. About to get approval for second extended mission. Still have not found evidence of northern polar ocean (beaches etc.) Some evidence of a frozen ocean or body of water elsewhhere - slabs of ice covered with dust. Spoke of raar results. Impact basin 200km in diameter buried under regolith in northern plains. Spoke about radar imagery of southern polar terrain and the fine structure that can be seen.

Since we have the same spacecraft orbiting two different planets (Mars and Venus Express) we are loooking to do a comparison - conference in 2008?


Peter Smith - Phoenix Update

Overview of lander- able to dig, provide weather conditions, imagery - descent, panoramic, on arm, microscope scale of 10 km down to 10 nm - ten orders of magnitude across imagery system.

We had a panic attack two years ago that we would not be able to scrape samples. So we put a power tool - a rasp - on the end of the arm. This is the sort of tool people use to make ice sculptures. Showed recent images of tests where samples were taken at -90C. RASP under development for 2 years.

Spacecraft hardware currently undergoing ATLO process. Cruise thermal vacuum testing surface deployment test, etc. End of Feb./early March we will do surface thermal and vacuum test. Engineering qualification models currently on spacecraft. Flight models will be added soon. 205 days to launch. Ship to KSC in May.

Significant issues with radar. Issues being dealt with by Red Team for past 6 months. Drop tests in October were successful. New flight models are due this month and we should be confident that our radar is ready for flight. Coating on backshell cracked during testing. We will probably scrape it off and add new insulation coating.

Landing site - we are going to land in a place where boulders greater than 30 cm are not found in abundance - the height of the spacecraft's deck above the ground. You cannot really see this size rock from MRO - but you can see larger ones - and using Viking lander 2 surface and MRO imagery we can interpolate down to the number of smaller sized rocks. We also need to avoid larger craters and steeply sloped terrain.

Smith showed a "Happy Halloween" card from the HiRise team with large boulders at the original landing site. He later got a "Happy New Year" card from the team that shows a location mostly devoid of these rocks.

Our goal is to understand ice - and we will land where Odyssey has discovered ice. Landing in polygonal terrain would be a plus. Image of landing site shows polygonal patterns that are devoid of larger rocks. Polygonal terrain has gentle slopes - based on imagery analysis. Lander can handle slopes up to 16 degrees.

Showed Odyssey-derived ice map. Decided to go with Region B - best ice vs. soil balance. Talked about landing site selection. Soil cools faster than rocks. Used thermal imaging to identify candidate sites - sites that are now being examined by MRO. Changes to another region can be made at TCM-1 - 6 days after launch. Changes within a box within a region can be made at TCM-2.

Landing planned for 25 May 2008.

Richard Zurek - MRO Update

MRO is now in primary science orbit. Looking at evidence of climate change, surface composition, surface layering, atmosphere changes, and subsurface ice.

Because we are looking at hi resolution imagery we have a context concern - what are we looking at? So we have a lower resolution imager to give context imaging.

MRO plans to return three times as much data as five missions put together.

The fact that Viking 1 parachute is still visible after 30 years of dust storms gives some hope that Beagle can be found. Sojourner rover is the size of a pixel so it will be hard to get a definitive answer. Heat shield apparently broke up.

MRO is working well. Power margins more than accurate, onboard targeting is stable and precise. Telecom works just fine - but there are some significant anomalies related to antenna and transmitter. All instruments are working fine and returning high quality data. Data rates up to 3 Mbps even at greatest range, more than 98% of data has been captured.

MRO images are huge. Free viewer is available online. Working with USGS on a viewer that will allow images to be manipulated as well as viewed.

MRO was originally going to have several years of science ops and then relay duty for Phoenix. Now that polar site has been chosen there will be an overlap between primary science and Phoenix relay duties.

Need to start thinking of follow-on science once primary duties finished. MRO can do science and relay duties out to 2015.

Joy Crisp - MSL Status

Passed mission systems PDR this Fall. Top technical challenges - entry, descent, landing; sample acquisition, processing and distribution, and analytical laboratory instrumentation.

Sample acquisition, processing and sampling: needs to brush and abrade surfaces; place instruments over rock; acquire rock samples, collect samples.

Schedule is rather tight - and mission is complex. Looking at alternate designs to lower risk, cost, simplify design. Looking at possibility of using a powdering drill bit instead of a corer and crusher. However this would delete the ability to view sample stratigraphy before powdering.

Do not know fate of tunable laser spectrometer due to budget issues. Trying to retain instrument - but perhaps with two instead of four channels.

PDR completed. CDR being undertaken on instruments. RTG will be our power source. Second workshop coming up in October 2007. First one was held in June 2006.

John Grant - MSL Landing Site Selection Process

First workshop - chose 12 sites for imaging by satellites. Once that imaging has been done they will have second workshop. Two subsequent workshops will then follow to recommend a landing site zone (Aug 2008) and then the landing zone ellipse (June 2009).

Grant went through the top 12 candidate sites explaining the interesting aspects of each. See MSL Landing Sites, Marsoweb

Gerhard Kminek - ExoMars Status

ExoMars is ESA's rover mission to search for past and present life on Mars. 50 proposals to develop payload received. Baseline mission was a rover launch on Soyuz in 2011. 2011 launch option determined by reviewers to not be realistic- suggested 2013 launch instead. ESA now working to 2013 launch.

Three mission scenarios under consideration. Soyuz with MER-like bags, Soyuz with vented airbags, Ariane V with vented airbags. Expect SRR in Spring 2007.

Payload confirmation review Jan-March 2007. Implementation review - will review results of SRR, commit to a proposal for development, launch, and mission operations, and provision of payload. All expected to be completed by May/June 2007.

Spacecraft is in Phase B1. Expect to enter Phase C/D in 2008.

End of today's coverage. There is an additional session on Organic Standards Programmatic Implications today, which I am not attending - but I will be back to cover tomorrow's sessions.

MEPAG meeting in Crystal City - Live Blog - Day Two

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on January 9, 2007 3:17 PM.

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