Space & Planetary Science: February 2012 Archives

Proposed Mars Mission Has New Name

"A proposed Discovery mission concept led by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., to investigate the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets by studying the deep interior of Mars now has a new name, InSight."

JPL's InSight: Ignoring The Real Costs - and its MPL Heritage, earlier post

"The highly successful Mars Phoenix is (logically) mentioned as a way to claim cost savings. But when Phoenix was proposed the cost savings from heavy reuse of failed Mars Polar Lander heritage hardware were cited - but never fully explained. If this mission is approved there is no doubt that JPL and SMD PAO will once again try and claim massive cost savings and simultaneously not mention the money spent to develop the hardware for previous missions."

Keith's note: Oddly, NASA SMD leadership present at the MEPAG meeting cast considerable doubt on having a lander heading for Mars until 2018 - at the earliest (if then). Indeed, they were far more certain that whatever might fly to Mars in 2018 would be an orbiter - not a lander.

Planetary Candidates Observed by Kepler, III: Analysis of the First 16 Months of Data

"New transiting planet candidates are identified in sixteen months (May 2009 - September 2010) of data from the Kepler spacecraft. Nearly five thousand periodic transit-like signals are vetted against astrophysical and instrumental false positives yielding 1,091 viable new planet candidates, bringing the total count up to over 2,300. Improved vetting metrics are employed, contributing to higher catalog reliability. Most notable is the noise-weighted robust averaging of multi-quarter photo-center offsets derived from difference image analysis which identifies likely background eclipsing binaries."

Architecture of Kepler's Multi-transiting Systems: II. New investigations with twice as many candidates

"Having discovered 885 planet candidates in 361 multiple-planet systems, Kepler has made transits a powerful method for studying the statistics of planetary systems. The orbits of only two pairs of planets in these candidate systems are apparently unstable. This indicates that a high percentage of the candidate systems are truly planets orbiting the same star, motivating physical investigations of the population."

Scientists See Red on NASA Cuts of Mars Missions, AP

"To scientists, the message from the White House seems simple: Bye-bye, Mars. On Monday, upset Mars researchers are meeting with NASA officials to figure out how to reboot the program beyond the 2013 mission. If Obama's budget sails through as outlined, "in essence, it is the end of the Mars program," said Phil Christensen, a Mars researcher at Arizona State University. It's like "we've just flown Apollo 10 and now we're going to cancel the Apollo program when we're one step from landing," he said."

- Second International MEPAG (Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group) Meeting (with WEBEX instructions)

- Live tweeting from this morning's session at @NASAWatch hashtag #MEPAG

Keith's MEPAG Observation: despite the fact that the Mars community is facing budget cuts all they can think about is more expensive missions to Mars. No interest in alternate approaches to sample return i.e. in situ characterization. FAIL.

NASA Official Announces Chair of New Mars Program Planning Group

"NASA's associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, John Grunsfeld, has named former veteran NASA program manager Orlando Figueroa to lead a newly established Mars Program Planning Group (MPPG) tasked to reformulate the agency's Mars Exploration Program. Figueroa's first assignment is to develop a draft framework for review by March 15."

Scientists see red on NASA cuts of Mars missions, AP

"NASA said it does not quite know what a reconfigured 2018 mission would look like, but it would be cost-capped at $700 million and it will not be landing. If it is lucky, it may orbit Mars. After Curiosity lands in August, the next NASA Mars surface mission probably is close to a decade away, Grunsfeld said. To scientists, the message from the White House seems simple: Bye-bye, Mars."

Mars, Europa missions battle for scarce NASA funding, SpaceflightNow

"NASA's statements about resuming Mars missions later this decade irked some scientists promoting voyages to the outer planets, who said that if the flagship Mars rover was canceled, the decadal survey explicitly prioritized a Europa mission over other, less-ambitious Mars projects.
A mission to closely observe Europa has been on scientists' wish list for more than a decade."

NASA Raids Outer Planets Budget To Fund Fast Start on Mars Reboot, SpaceNews

"Meanwhile, with the funding changes described in the operating plan, NASA will now be spending only $9 million on outer planets programs in 2012. Those funds will all go toward studies for missions to the planetary science community's highest-priority outer-solar-system destinations: Jupiter's icy moon Europa, the gas giant Uranus and faraway Neptune. A concept study for a mission to Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons, is planned for 2013."

NASA is taking JPL workers for granted, Schiff says, La Canada Valley Sun

"NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who visited JPL on Wednesday, said the agency will try to restructure its Mars program in order to save jobs and preserve skills developed during past Mars missions. JPL Director Charles Elachi explained that administrators might transfer other projects funded by the 2013 NASA budget to JPL. Schiff said shuffling jobs misses the mark. "I'm not at all comforted by what I hear from NASA," said Schiff. "It's not about substituting other projects to keep people busy. It's about doing things no one else in the world can do. If that talent pool leaves, putting it back together later is going to be darn near impossible."

Op-ed: Don't gut America's planetary science, op ed by Reps. Adam Schiff and John Culberson

"Slashing NASA's budget for exploring the solar system would be a serious mistake that would threaten our nation's hard-won and long- held leadership role, and would come at a terrible time, now that China and other nations are rising to challenge American primacy in space. Meeting that test is good for science and good for America; by exploring other worlds, we remain competitive on our own."

NASA chief pledges Mars help, Pasadena Sun

"Although he offered little detail, Bolden said that NASA will attempt to restructure its Mars program in ways that would save jobs at JPL and preserve its Mars exploration brain trust. "There are a lot of things about going to other planets that nobody knows, except here," said Bolden. "We will be working with folks here at JPL in trying to restructure our robotic Mars exploration program." JPL Director Charles Elachi said the administrative restructuring could involve bringing other NASA work funded under the 2013 budget to JPL, but specific projects have not yet been identified."

Keith's note: I wonder if the White House knows about this. This can't be a real solution i.e. taking work from other NASA field centers and sending it to JPL to offset White House-directed cuts in Mars work - at JPL. Other NASA facilities are facing cuts, why shouldn't JPL? Giving preference to a FFRDC (JPL) over NASA (government) field centers? I don't think so. Also, what sorts of promises are being made to the other centers affected by 2013 budget cuts? This is a zero sum game at the end of the day - Bolden can't promise the same thing to more than one center - or can he? I doubt this idea will ever get pass the "Oops, I misspoke phase. Stay tuned.

Is This A Martian Ice Cave?

Mars HiRISE Image: Well-Speckled Polar Dunes

"These barchan (crescent-shaped) sand dunes are found within the North Polar erg of Mars. This type of dune provides a great record of the wind environment when they formed and moved: barchan dunes' horns point downwind. Although the question of present-day sand motion is still open, it appears possible that these dunes are active (when not covered in frost) as their crestlines are very sharp and their slipfaces (the inner curved region between the horns/downwind surface) appears very smooth and steep."

Keith's note: If you look at the hi res image there certainly seems to be an overhang of some sort - seemingly cave-like. I'd ask JPL PAO but they either ignore me or offer non-answers when they do respond. FWIW, this terrain reminds me of Hoth and you know what lives there.

APS Division for Planetary Sciences: American Planetary Exploration Is in Grave Danger

"Under the proposed budget NASA will be forced to cancel its plans for its most ambitious exploration missions, slash the Mars Exploration Program, and kill the Lunar Quest Program. The cuts will also end collaborations with the European Space Agency on the 2016 Mars Trace Gas Orbiter and the 2018 ExoMars rover, delay the economical Discovery and New Frontiers space programs, and force cuts in operations and data analysis for a number of current missions."

Keeping NASA's Next Space Telescope Under Control: Q&A with Scott Willoughby,

"The $8.8 billion observatory has become synonymous with cost overruns, and last summer, House appropriators recommended scrapping the project entirely. But JWST survived, and in November, President Barack Obama granted NASA $17.8 billion for the 2012 fiscal year, which included full funding for the observatory. Still, the project remains a source of contention, and critics claim that JWST is tying up valuable funds from other worthy science missions. Obama's proposed 2013 budget for NASA revealed earlier this week, for example, includes deep cuts to planetary science missions to help pay for JWST."

NASA's Webb telescope: Revolutionary design, runaway costs, LA Times

"The delays boosted the cost even more. By last year, the cost estimate to build the telescope hit $8 billion, not including about $940 million in contributions by international partners and about $800 million NASA will spend for five years of operation. The launch date slipped from 2014 to 2018, meaning an army of experts will have to keep working years more on the project. In the past, NASA could tap reserves in its larger budget to get through technical problems, but those funding pools have dried up, Howard said."

Obama's NASA budget: Mars takes a hit, but space science isn't dead, Christian Science Monitor

"To be sure, in President Obama's fiscal 2013 budget proposal, two major Mars missions for 2016 and 2018 lost a budgetary wrestling match with the replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope, the James Web Space Telescope. But Mr. Obama's plan also includes money to begin preliminary studies on a mission to Saturn's moon Enceladus, as well as an orbiter-probe mission to Uranus."

Keith's note: NASA JPL Employee @doug_ellison recently tweeted "Based on some MIPS benchmarks, and the RAD750 cpu on iPhone 4S is 12x more powerful than Curiosity."

Gee ... NASA is always bragging about all of the advanced gizmos they have (justifiably) - but they never talk about how outdated some of their things are - and why. Among other things, the reasons why old stuff is used have to do with the brutal nature of the space environment (and what will reliably "work"). But the reasons also have to do with NASA's slow-motion design practices and mission delays due to self-induced cost overruns.

Then again, my toaster is much smarter than Voyagers 1 and 2 (together) and yet they will both last far longer - and JPL wizards keep updating their apps and OS as they enter interstellar space - 35 years on. That said, NASA probably flies yesterday's technology a bit more often than it should. Gotta work on that, NASA. Maybe that $700 million in the FY 2013 budget for "technology" will give that process a kick start.

Hmm ... cellphones smarter than Mars robots. Why isn't NASA putting cellphones inside of spacecraft? Just wrap them in Lead.

JPL's math problem, Pasadena Sun

"Meanwhile, it would be foolhardy to impose a radical reduction in the Mars program. Exploring Mars is not the same as running a Laundromat. You can't just close one day (or fiscal year) and then reopen the next without losing progress and expertise. Nor can you do so while staying ahead of other nations in the space race."

NASA Leadership In Space Exploration Shaken, Aviation Week

"Because NASA is "protecting the civil service workforce," job losses resulting from that cut will be felt among contractor personnel and at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is run by the California Institute of Technology. Contractor job cuts are already well understood, according to Robinson, but the impact of changes in the Mars work at JPL remains to be seen. Overall, some 300-400 jobs that will be lost as development on MSL winds down may not be preserved with new work, Robinson says."

NASA OIG: Final Report: NASA's Management of the Mars Science Laboratory Project

"In February 2009, NASA delayed the MSL's launch 2 years because of the late delivery of several critical components and instruments. This delay and the additional resources required to resolve the underlying technical issues increased the Project's development costs by 86 percent, from $969 million to the current $1.8 billion, and its life-cycle costs by 56 percent, from $1.6 billion to the current $2.5 billion. In addition, due to planetary alignment the optimal launch window for a mission to Mars occurs every 26 months. If MSL was to be delayed again, the Project would require significant redesign at a cost of at least $570 million."

Keith's note: Mars Science Laboratory "Curiosity", en route to Mars, is $1 billion over budget and 2 years late. The blame for this falls squarely on JPL's shoulders. While it is foolish to gut future Mars exploration, it is the height of hypocrisy for JPLers to cry foul about budget cuts after they have abused the process by looking the other way as costs went out of control. Yet JPL has gotten smart about controlling costs before. After JPL crashed MPL and MCO into Mars (one crash being due to "math problems") they rebounded with Spirit and Opportunity - talk about an absolutely incredible return on investment. Contrary to the Pasadena Sun's comments, maybe the JPL folks could learn something from people who operate laundromats after all.

Letter to Hillary Clinton and John Holdren: James Webb Space Telescope and our International Commitments, James Webb Space Telescope Advisory Committee (JSTAC)

"In this letter we wish to reiterate to the Administration the importance of JWST to our international partners and of our commitments to them. Through a series of unfortunate cancellations of planned NASA participation in key space science missions (e.g., Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, International X-Ray Observatory, ExoMars) the long-term US collaborative relationship with Europe through the European Space Agency has deteriorated substantially."

Keith's note: NASA cancels U.S. participation in ExoMars (and its associated international committments) to cover Webb Space Telescope cost overruns, and now the Webb community is citing this cancellation as a bad precedent - and then use this as an excuse to generate more support for Webb? This is both hilarious - and incredibly duplicitous.

Red Planet meets red ink: budget ax could chop two NASA Mars missions, Christian Science Monitor

"Overall, the reports suggest that the total budget request for NASA will come in close to this year's budget of $17.8 billion. But the agency is having to absorb significant cost overruns for the James Webb Space Telescope, successor to The Hubble Space Telescope, and has had to do likewise with the Mars Science Laboratory, currently en route to the red planet."

Europe Turns to Russia as NASA Cuts Loom, WS Journal

"The latest budget crunch not only threatens the future of Mars exploration, according to scientists and lawmakers, but separate efforts to explore Europa, one of Jupiter's large moons, and other parts of the solar system where scientists have been looking for past signs of life. Within the past two years, NASA has backed out of two unrelated robotic missions with European space officials."

U.S. Space Science Confronts New Economic Reality, Wired

"Right now, everyone needs to step back a little bit and ask not 'how can I have mine' but 'how can we have ours,'" said astronomer Matt Mountain, director of the Space Telescope Science Institute that oversees operations of Hubble and other telescopes."

Keith's note: Among the "citizen journalists" at Monday's press briefing on the FY 2013 budget will be Bethany Jones @AAS_Bethany_J (aka @AAS_CAPP, the John Bahcall Public Policy Fellow for the American Astronomical Society. You'll note that she is being paid by an organization that has a vested interest in supporting funding for both Hubble and Webb - but also all other aspects of space and planetary science.

My favorite tweet of hers is from 1 September 2011: "@NASAWatch Where did you get this information? Or are you spreading vicious rumors?". I wonder ... will Bethany Jones ask a question regarding the funding of the Webb cost overruns or about cutting planetary science? Or both? You see, the AAS membership is on both sides of these issues - somewhat dysfunctionally I might add. Stay tuned. Too bad other organizations with interests in space policy are now being afforded this opportunity.

Questions at this afternoon's budget press conference can be tweeted with the hashtag #askNASA NASA will try and answer some of them.

- AAS Division for Planetary Sciences Express Concern Over Budget Priorities, earlier post
- AAS SPD Memo to AGU Heliophysics Section on Webb Costs, earlier post
- Webb Cost Overruns Concern AAS Members (Update), earlier post

NASA Wants A Flat Budget For Fiscal 2013, Aviation Week

"NASA will take only an $89 million cut in its topline spending request for fiscal 2013 compared to this year's operating plan, sources said Friday, but the $17.711 billion NASA budget proposal due out Feb. 13 will axe the joint effort with Europe to return samples from Mars to pay for development overruns on the James Webb Space Telescope."

Scientists say NASA will cut missions to Mars, MSNBC

"Jim Bell, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University who also serves as president of the nonprofit Planetary Society, said "there's some validity" to the criticism of NASA's budgetary record. He said the scientific community "has heard that message" and is trying to focus on the highest-priority planetary projects for the next decade, including missions to Mars. "The community has a responsibility to demonstrate that we can do this within cost limits. ... If there are to be cuts, let's try to make them as fair as possible," he told "It would seem to be fair if everyone across the board is being asked to scale back. The cuts should be equitable, but I don't think we're seeing that."

Congressman Adam Schiff opposes potential cuts to NASA's planetary exploration program, San Gabriel Tribune

"Schiff described his meeting with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden as "tense." "What I'm hearing that they're proposing will be absolutely devastating to planetary science and the Mars program," Schiff said. "If this is what they have in mind, I'm going to be fighting them tooth and nail."

Scientists say NASA cutting missions to Mars, AP

"Two scientists who were briefed on the 2013 NASA budget that will be released next week said the space agency is eliminating two proposed joint missions with Europeans to explore Mars in 2016 and 2018. NASA had agreed to pay $1.4 billion for those missions. Some Mars missions will continue, but the fate of future flights is unclear."

Keith's note:Meanwhile the James Webb Space Telescope crowd is eerily quiet. They know that the cost being covered for their latest overrun grossly eclipses the cuts that are being made elswhere. Alas, the grossly over-budget and oft-delayed MSL is on its way to Mars while the grossly over-budget ISS orbits overhead.

50 years of doing this - and NASA still can't figure out what things will actually cost?

Ed Weiler Says He Quit NASA Over Cuts to Mars Program, Science Insider

"The Mars program is one of the crown jewels of NASA," says Ed Weiler. "In what irrational, Homer Simpson world would we single it out for disproportionate cuts?" Weiler's resignation in September caught the space science community by surprise. But he says it was the culmination of a soul-sapping and ultimately unsuccessful battle with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on how to accommodate the rising cost of the James Webb Space Telescope within an overall agency budget being squeezed by efforts to reduce federal spending and shrink the deficit. "It all left a very bad taste," Weiler told ScienceInsider this morning from his house in Vero Beach, Florida."

Keith's note: This is sadly hilarious. Of course Ed Weiler's chronic inability to control James Webb Space Telecope's costs is what led to this situation in the first place. So, I guess Ed Weiler quit to protest his own poor job performance, right? Ed also neglects to mention the large cost overrun and 2 year delay in MSL - also under his tenure. I guess that did not affect things either, right Ed?

Spanning the HEOMD-SMD Gap

NASA science chief advocates ties with human spaceflight, SpaceflightNow

"Grunsfeld told Spaceflight Now he met with Bill Gerstenmaier, head of NASA's human exploration division, in his first week in office. "One of the reasons I'm in this job now is because NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden believed that teaming with human spaceflight on those things that make sense, on our exploration program, for science to take advantage of the resources of human spaceflight, for human spaceflight to be informed by the science we can do at planetary destinations, for instance, can make the whole program stronger," Grunsfeld said."

Report Endorses NASA's Proposed Contribution to Euclid Mission

"A new National Research Council report responds to a request from NASA to evaluate this possible U.S. contribution to Euclid and concludes that the investment of approximately $20 million in hardware would be a valuable first step toward meeting the scientific goals of the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), which is one of the top-ranked priorities recommended in New Worlds, New Horizons in Astronomy and Astrophysics, the National Research Council's recent decadal survey of research priorities in astronomy and astrophysics. However, the new report concluded, the Euclid mission on its own is not sufficient for achieving the broader decadal survey goals for the WFIRST mission, nor will it seek to accomplish the more ambitious goals for WFIRST's dark energy measurements."

Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST)

Keith's note: According to the official web page for the proposed InSight mission to Mars at NASA JPL: "The InSight mission will fly a near-duplicate of the Mars lander that the Phoenix mission used successfully in 2007 to study ground ice near the north pole of Mars. The reuse of this technology, developed and built by Lockheed-Martin Space Systems in Denver, CO, will provide a low-risk path to Mars without the added cost of designing and testing a new system from scratch." No cost numbers are provided to verify the cost cutting claim.

The highly successful Mars Phoenix is (logically) mentioned as a way to claim cost savings. But when Phoenix was proposed the cost savings from heavy reuse of failed Mars Polar Lander heritage hardware were cited - but never fully explained. If this mission is approved there is no doubt that JPL and SMD PAO will once again try and claim massive cost savings and simultaneously not mention the money spent to develop the hardware for previous missions.

Keith's update: Gee, that was fast. Spin control has begun. JPL PAO's Veronica McGregor just tweeted "@NASAWatch MPL was a different design from the 2001 lander." The University of Arizona's Phoenix site says "The Phoenix Mission uses the Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander, built in 2000, but later administratively mothballed." According to the NASA NSSDC entry on Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander: "The mission will be based on the Mars '98 Polar Lander". Here we go again, JPL is trying to have it both ways - they want you to accept the fact that InSight uses Phoenix heritage (i.e. the Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander) - but they do not want you to know that Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander was very, very closely based on the Mars Polar Lander design - indeed, modifications to what became Phoenix were the direct result of the failure analysis of MPL - that is how closely they were related.

- NASA SMD's Cost Overrun Coverup (updated with Telecon notes), earlier post
- Yet Another Mars Phoenix Cost Figure, earlier post
- The Actual Cost of Mars Phoenix is $520 Million, earlier post
- Why Does The Official Cost of Mars Phoenix Keep Changing?, earlier post
- NASA Has a Problem Calculating - and Admitting - What Space Missions Really Cost, earlier post



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