Oct 13 2015

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A classic case of requirements creep

NASA Eyes Sample-Return Capability for Post-2020 Mars Orbiter. They’re looking to possibly add a sample return mission to the next Mars Orbiter (launched after the 2020 Rover), which would, in my opinion, be a mistake.


  1. A sample return mission is not complimentary at all to the current requirements set of the orbiter. It’s primary mission will be some sort of sensing/observing of Mars, plus replacing the Mars Odyssey as the primary communications link between plantside rovers and Earth. A sample return mission would be a completely new requirements set, adding cost and complexity.
  2. Since this Orbiter mission is not yet funded (it doesn’t appear in the NASA’s 2016 budget request),to be ready for a launch window by 2022, the entire project would only have about 5 years to get from concept to launch pad — a challenge anytime, but adding a completely new mission would make this well nigh impossible.
  3. As the article alludes, likely, the 2022 launch window would be missed, which would mean than this Orbiter would be a 2024 mission. In this challenging fiscal environment, can NASA really go 4 years between major Mars missions, particularly considering that putting boots on Mars is NASA’s current ultimate goal? Likely not, particularly if that 2024 mission costs a lot
  4. Somehow, the sample return mission would have to be accomplished while keeping the Orbiter in Mars’ orbit, given its communications relay mission. That adds even more complexity (a launch from an orbital platform, and then a maneuver to get the Orbiter back into its original orbit (or other useful orbit).

If NASA wants to do a sample return mission, I recommend it be its own project, maybe targeted for 2024. Land vertically on Mars (ala Falcon 9R), deploy a rover, collect a sample, deposit sample on rocket, launch rocket toward Earth while rover stays planetside to continue science mission.

Just sayin’.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.newspaceraces.com/2015/10/13/a-classic-case-of-requirements-creep/

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