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Exploration

NASA Future In-Space Operations: 2028 Human Mission to Orbit Mars and Visit its Moons

By Marc Boucher
NASA Watch
August 12, 2016
Filed under , , ,
NASA Future In-Space Operations: 2028 Human Mission to Orbit Mars and Visit its Moons

NASA FISO Presentation: Mars Science Enabled by the Mars Base Camp 2028 Proposed Architecture
Dr. Steve Jolly is the Lockheed Martin Chief Engineer for the Civil Space line of business. He was the Chief Engineer and Principal Scientist for the GOES-R program and Chief Engineer and Deputy PM for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Steve Bailey has worked exclusively on human and robotic space exploration systems since 1983.

Note: The audio file and presentation are available online and to download.
Marc’s note: The concept of a human pre-cursor mission to Phobos and Deimos is not new. I remember having lunch with Pascal Lee of the SETI Institute/Mars Institute along with Elon Musk in 2004 where Pascal pitched the Phobos mission. Elon wasn’t interested. However not too long afterward Buzz Aldrin was. In fact, he called me while I was still working with the Mars Institute to discuss the idea and offer his support.
Advocates of a direct mission to Mars will vocally disagree and I can’t blame them. After all, we’ve been discussing a human mission to Mars for as long as I can remember and we’re still years from it becoming a reality. But, the idea of a pre-cursor mission is still worth discussion and consideration.

SpaceRef co-founder, entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, nature lover and deep thinker.

29 responses to “NASA Future In-Space Operations: 2028 Human Mission to Orbit Mars and Visit its Moons”

  1. Stephen Braham says:
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    Yup, before we wrote the Lee, Braham, Mungas, Silver, Thomas and West paper on it in 2005, there was older stuff, even going back to Von Braun, for the concept. The teleoperation idea gets fuzzier as AI progresses, and it’s hard to know if it’s a valid concept even a few years from now, let alone 2028, but it’s still an interesting potential testing paper.

    • Jeff2Space says:
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      AI is progressing in areas which should be routine (i.e. self driving cars). And even then, AI still isn’t being deployed for public consumption quite yet (Tesla’s “autopilot” is more fancy cruise control than self-driving).

      But, in areas where the unknown might or very likely will happen, AI is not, and will not, be terribly useful. In that case, it’s still going to be better to send people, if only to deal with the unknowns as they crop up. In other words, AI, when it becomes mainstream, will compliment astronauts on exploration missions, not replace them.

      • fcrary says:
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        AI would only need to cover events with occur within a two-way light time, which is never more than about 25 minutes from Mars to Earth. That’s all using astronauts on Mars orbit, instead of operators on Earth, would accomplish. I’m not sure how many unknowns would come up in 25 minutes.

        Or, more precisely, I’m not sure how much avoiding them would slow down the rover. At 100 m/hour or less, I can’t see much coming up. At 10 km/hour, I can imagine lots of things coming up in 25 minutes. But I’m not sure about the scientific value of that speed.

      • Daniel Woodard says:
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        AI is incredibly useful in exploration. AI advances every year. Human capabilities have not changed significantly since the dawn of civilization.

        Curiosity and even Opportunity continue to explore, and let’s keep in mind that they have less computing power than a cell phone. A key need for future missions is radiation tolerant computers with greater computing power. Radiation tolerance can be achieved at the component level or through architectural redundancy but we need some emphasis here.

        When something unexpected is encountered it often takes the humans back a JPL a few days to decide what to do. A human on the scene is not likely to be faster or more accurate, and will be more constrained by acceptable risk.

        • Jeff2Space says:
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          Sending a geologist to the moon (Harrison Schmidt) enabled on the spot recognition of “interesting” rocks to bring back. In fact, the most significant rock brought back by all of the Apollo missions was one that Schmidt spotted.

          The Apollo astronauts did more science in a few days than all of the unmanned missions to the moon combined. This is due to a combination of having people on the spot making real-time decisions and the fact that the manned missions could also return far larger lunar samples than any unmanned mission. Adding significant sample return to a manned mission is easier than for an unmanned mission, since a manned mission must necessarily return the astronauts to earth.

          • Stephen Braham says:
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            Except there are now already existing field robotics systems being used in field geology that can do rock identification and context analysis far faster than humans, because humans can’t process an entire 3D environment thousands of times a second. With AI doubling each year in capacity (twice as fast as computing power, btw), it’s highly probable that the grunt geologist work will be autonomous. Also, with improving comms, a human can watch from Earth, get full VR feeds in full pan (without the bandwidth limits that meant you needed to tell a robot or astronaut where to point a camera in the past), and just say “hey, see that rock there? Go back to it, please!” in a timeframe that’s totally compatible with science. Indeed, many field scientists on Earth spot one thing one day and do a site revisit the next day, or on the return path. With sensor acuity now going beyond human visual acuity, and the ability to do live multispectral, laser photometry, etc, etc, robotic platforms will increasingly be able to replace field geologists, and hence astronauts, especially be 2028.

          • Jeff2Space says:
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            Do you have a cite for existing AI/3D/VR systems that are deployed in the field performing geology today? If not, then what you’re talking about is not possible today on earth, let alone on Mars.

  2. Zed_WEASEL says:
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    The FISO presentation is a fantasy. It basically requires about 11 SLS size payloads plus man-rated ground EVA element to be developed for going to the Martian Moons. In addition to the cost of the SLS at about a $1B per flight. There is no way the Congress will fund this mission after the sticker shock.

    • TheBrett says:
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      So it’s exactly the type of mission that Lockheed-Martin wants.

    • Egad says:
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      I will say that the virtue of this presentation is that it has actual-ish hardware elements and launches placed along a definite-ish timeline. That should someone skilled in the art of cost estimation to, er, estimate the funding profile needed to do RDT&E, build and launch stuff between now and 2029 . One hopes that someone will do that, as the results would be very useful to have.

    • Daniel Woodard says:
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      If there is no sticker (i,e, a defined mission with a defined cost) there will be no sticker shock.

    • Jeff2Space says:
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      11 SLS sized payloads!?! Yea, that will never be funded. To get that to fly in a reasonable amount of time, huge investments would have to be made in order to increase SLS production, not to mention the improvements that would have to be made at KSC to launch them in fairly rapid succession.

      • Zed_WEASEL says:
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        Yeah. Since currently there is only one MLP and one high bay in the VAB that can handle SRBs. Also the Michoud facility can only cranked out one SLS core about every 9 months maximum without more funding & resources. Never mind Aerojet restating the SSME production in the expendable RS-25E version. Which is basically a new engine, just like the RS-68A upgrade from the RD-68.

      • fcrary says:
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        Well, I was sort of wondering about that. There was a presentation at the OPAG meeting, last Thursday, on SLS and its potential uses for (unmanned) planetary missions. The speaker, when asked, said they were no longer worried about low flight rates. He felt the human spaceflight plans would call for a launch every year or two. That struck me as optimistic, and I wasn’t sure what plans he was thinking of.

  3. Daniel Woodard says:
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    The PhD mission concept (and the name) was presented at the first Case For Mars Conference in 1981.

    However today with autonomous rovers rapidly advancing, in terms of pure scientific productivity, it is not clear that human presence would provide an advantage over a robotic mission.

    I think a manned PhD mission would make sense if the transit time can be reduced to a month or two with nuclear electric propulsion.

    • Michael Spencer says:
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      Oh, there you go again πŸ™‚

      Do we have to trot out poor Dr. Schmidt over and over? πŸ™‚

    • ThomasLMatula says:
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      Actually give credit where credit is due. A mission to Phobos before landing on Mars was part of the old 1959 TV series Men Into Space. It was the last episode, “Flight to the Red Planet” πŸ™‚

      You will find it on YouTube, “Men into Space” 38

  4. TheBrett says:
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    I think a Phobos-Deimos mission would be best as a test of an all-purpose interplanetary spacecraft with multiple uses, like if you wanted to build the equivalent of the Hermes from The Martian. It’d be good practice for sending it to other distant locations where you’re not really going to “land” per se.

    It’s not so great as a precursor mission to Mars. It does let you test the trip to Mars (at great expense), but you have to build extra hardware to keep the astronauts alive in Mars Orbit until your return window is there that will be really different than the hardware for a Mars landing mission. And while the science would be good, I’m pretty skeptical it would be worth the money versus putting good relay satellites around Mars and upgrading our control over robotic probes from Earth.

    EDIT: Blargh, can’t get rid of the embedded video now – I just wanted it as a link. There’s a lot I like about DISQUS, but auto-embedding Youtube videos is not one of those things.

  5. Neal Aldin says:
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    Someday when it is easy to do, and doesn’t cost any extra, a mission to the moons would be fun. But to go there as the next step to Mars is just another flags and footprints, in this case more like flags and moondust. No real point other than give the astronauts something fun to do in Mars orbit. They really ought to be looking at long term sustainable value added missions, and not just a mission to make use of some hardware. This is a good example of the lack of vision.

    • Michael Spencer says:
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      That’s what I thought at first, but think of Apollo 8 – a mission that provided real data (and experience) while limiting the astronauts to unknown issues.

      With the exception of STS-1, that’s the way NASA has done things, and it makes sense.

      • Jeff2Space says:
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        Except “data” is not at all why Apollo 8 was flown. It was flown around the moon because the LEM wasn’t nearly ready to fly and the US was in the Space Race with the Soviet Union. It would be another “first” that the Americans could claim for the record books. There was no real need to fly that mission ahead of others that could fly with a LEM.

        Using Apollo 8 to support a manned mission to orbit Mars, and possibly visit its moons, is a bit shaky in an age where there is no space race.

        • fcrary says:
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          Fine. So what about Apollo 10? It went to the Moon with a LEM, but did not land. They used it to test the entire mission profile _except_ for the actual landing, surface activities and ascent.

          I’m not saying a PhD mission is a good idea, I’m simply agreeing with Michael: There is a precedent for testing the system without an actual landing.

          • Jeff2Space says:
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            Apollo 10 is a far better example. The LEM wasn’t quite light enough yet to safely land. But, there was value in doing an end-to-end test of everything except the landing.

        • mfwright says:
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          Interesting story why the push to fly Apollo 8, CIA recon sat observed the huge Soviet N1 rocket on the pad and later (few days?) it was not there. “OMG, did they already flew and we missed it?” No, it blew up into pieces.

          I think anyone expecting another Apollo 8 event will be disappointed. Back then it was a different world, before Apollo 8 magazines and books illustrations showed the earth with NO clouds.

          Rather than trying for impressive space firsts, NASA should concentrate on what it is meant to do: Technology development (but this can lead to “firsts” as we have seen with numerous robotic missions).

      • Neal Aldin says:
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        Apollo 8, it should be remembered, took place in the 7th year of human space flight. Apollo had a vision, a goal and a mission, and Apollo 8 was a great test (only the second human test) of the command module and the first test of the mission design, navigation and communications capabilities. It is now more than half a century since the beginning of human space flight. We’ve done dozens of lunar and planetary flybys. We’ve done a dozen lunar missions and returns (Apollo, Zond and Luna). Although some technology, like digital computers are more advanced, Orion is not a serious advance over Apollo-same basic shape, similar aerodynamic loading, similar reentry profile, similar materials.. so as a test flight its not so critical as Apollo 8, and besides all of Apollo was flags and footprints. It achieved a political goal but was not sustainable and sidetracked much of our activity away from making space or the moon part of the sphere of commerce and industry. Sure, NASA has had a role in setting new records, but mainly NASA’s job is technlogy advancement. So I stick with my initial perspective, this mission really does not add much if its mainly a test of an Orion capability,.

  6. Bill Housley says:
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    If we send people to spend a year on a moon, then why fly clear to Mars orbit to do it? Also, if the tech is available to survive a year going to Mars, and back, then what further “precursor” is necessary?
    The Planetary Society wants NASA to ask Congress to pay to send astronauts to stand on Phobos so they can study a less expensive Commercial Mars colony from orbit. That is what it amounts to.

    • Michael Spencer says:
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      Had to laugh, Bill, imagining the NAASA boys longingly peering through scope at Elonville.

      Truthfully though the form of the first Mars trip has yet to be imagined. Too much is changing.

      • Bill Housley says:
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        Not that those moons aren’t great exploration targets. Great for Mars explorers to launch probes and rovers up to. πŸ˜‰

        I understand why he’d pitch a Phobos first mission to a SETI crowd though. My argument is that there seems to be a credible, two-pronged momentum in place now for boots on Mars, so if anyone sees hard value in orbit first, Phobos first, or Deimos first, then they’d best pursue those goals by stepping up their own timelines into earlier launch windows.

  7. Steven Rappolee says:
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    I recall my excitment during the apollo 8 mission ,if your lander is not yet ready or worse you do not have the funding for a lander the orbital missions can inspire and excite.We will need a habitate though.