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View Full Version : Why not send several more rovers ASAP?



rsa
2004-Mar-03, 04:57 PM
I know the initial answer is MONEY! But since Spirit and Opportunity have been so successful, it makes sense to me to send several more of the current rovers to other interesting locations on Mars. Although the two landing sites of the existing rovers are interesting in many regards, a major criteria was having a flat relatively "safe" landing site.

Why not check out some of the riskier sites even at the risk of having less than a 100% success rate? Especially in light of the fact that the next Mars surface mission is not scheduled until 2009.

On the issue of the cost, I would think that the majority, if not the bulk of the cost of the rover missions is in the intial R&D, extensive testing, etc. While I have no idea of the actual costs involved, it seems that most of the fixed costs are already spent. Perhaps we could whip together four or five new rovers using the existing designs and send them up.

Does anyone have any idea of the marginal cost of additional rover missions?

Jack Higgins
2004-Mar-03, 05:40 PM
Especially in light of the fact that the next Mars surface mission is not scheduled until 2009.

2007- Phoenix: http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/future/phoenix.html

But that's not a rover so it kinda sucks... I'd send another two or three beefed-up MER's before the MSL, replacing what Phoenix will do. Most of the design work is done, so it would be cheaper to send these than design a completely new lander craft, that's only going to be used once ever.

snabald
2004-Mar-03, 05:50 PM
They should send a bunch of Beagle II type crafts but with better airbags and landing communication systems, we should salt Mars with the little buggers!!!

russ_watters
2004-Mar-03, 05:54 PM
I know the initial answer is MONEY! But since Spirit and Opportunity have been so successful, it makes sense to me to send several more of the current rovers to other interesting locations on Mars. Although the two landing sites of the existing rovers are interesting in many regards, a major criteria was having a flat relatively "safe" landing site. Well, money yes, but also: TIME and 'what current rovers?'

These projects take a good decade or two from start to finish and they likely don't have any spares they can slap onto a booster and send up. Even if they kept the current design, it would probably require seveal years of construction and testing before launch.

JohnOwens
2004-Mar-03, 05:54 PM
Especially in light of the fact that the next Mars surface mission is not scheduled until 2009.

2007- Phoenix: http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/future/phoenix.html

But that's not a rover so it kinda sucks... I'd send another two or three beefed-up MER's before the MSL, replacing what Phoenix will do. Most of the design work is done, so it would be cheaper to send these than design a completely new lander craft, that's only going to be used once ever.

Actually, if you follow one of the links there ("Read more about the Phoenix mission"), you'll see that the Phoenix was already built and ready to go for 2001, but got cancelled after the Mars Polar Lander didn't pan out. It's been sitting in a clean room meanwhile. So that pretty well trumps the "cheaper than a new design" argument, since in this case it's even cheaper because they don't even have to build it, either.

rsa
2004-Mar-03, 06:04 PM
Well, money yes, but also: TIME and 'what current rovers?'

These projects take a good decade or two from start to finish and they likely don't have any spares they can slap onto a booster and send up. Even if they kept the current design, it would probably require seveal years of construction and testing before launch.
By "current rovers" I meant constructing additional rovers using the existing design. I am surprised that it would "several years" to makes copies of an existing design. But then again, I'm no rocket scientist!

skrap1r0n
2004-Mar-03, 06:11 PM
what we need to do is send in a sizable unmanned orbiter relay station. The orbiter could do some high resolution mapping and surface analysis. Also have it deploy some GPS sattelites to orbit mars

load the bugger up with a bunch of mini probes (think RC cars) that way they could drop the mini probe/rovers where ever it seemed interesting. hell you could even design it where a resupply ship could dock with the orbiter and resupply it with the mini probes.

You could keep the mini rover/probes supplied with power through microwave transmission from the main orbiter.

Inside several years you could have several hundred of these mini rovers crawling all over the place. Each mini rover would have minimal sensors on it, but enough to determine if its area of focus warranted more study.

Oh well, what do I know.

rsa
2004-Mar-03, 06:22 PM
I did find some information on the cost breakdown here: http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/newsroom/merlandings.pdf

For two rovers the cost is...

$100 million launch
$75 million mission operations and science processing

Then there is $645 million for spacecreft development and science instruments. The question is how much of that amount was for R&D and how much of that is for construction and testing.

Just a wild guess, maybe $150 million per rover???

If that is in the ballpark, we could send three more rovers for a bit more than $700 million. Sounds like a deal to me especially considering that the Mars exploration budget has been doubled to support Bush's Mars plan. But then I think we should go slow on the manned mission preparations and concentrate on the robotic science missions for now.

diddidit
2004-Mar-03, 06:39 PM
There are timing issues relating to the orbits - it's easy to send stuff from Earth to Mars roughly every 2 years. It can be done in the interim, but the flight time is much longer. It may not be possible to send something like the current lander using the same launch vehicle, either, due to fuel requirements. Not sure about that, though.

That two-year interval is pretty handy, though, as it gives some time to analyze data to plan subsequent missions.

did

aurora
2004-Mar-03, 11:35 PM
We had a discussion awhile back that touched on this topic.

I was a proponent of cutting the manned spaceflight program until we are ready for it, and putting the money into more and better robotic missions in the meantime.

Others were for keeping the manned program because they find it to be the most exciting part of exploration, and believing that any money saved from reducing it would not go into the space program anyway.

Robots today are clumsy in many ways (a human could have pushed on Galileo's high gain antenna and fixed it, for example) but robots have certain advantages (we could not have sent a human to Jupiter) in that they don't need a breathable atmosphere, don't need water and food, etc.

We need more and better robotic missions to Mars. 8)

Swift
2004-Mar-04, 12:01 AM
By "current rovers" I meant constructing additional rovers using the existing design. I am surprised that it would "several years" to makes copies of an existing design. But then again, I'm no rocket scientist!
I think the problem is even with the current design, these are not off-the-shelf items. Some of the instruments (the Mossbauer for one) are specially built for this rover. I remember they mentioned in the Nova program about the Rovers- they did a shock-test on the Mossbauer spectrometer and it was a big risk because they didn't have a spare. On the flip side, they had to test it because they didn't want it to fail because of launch vibrations. And these are not things that the instrument makers can just wip up, it would probably take months just to get it into their production schedules.

Espritch
2004-Mar-04, 12:46 AM
Iíd like to note a couple of points. Firstly, the rovers are not mass produced items. Parts for these machines were probably machine tooled in very small runs to very exacting standards. The fact that two were built doesnít provide much cost advantage in constructing more.

The second point is that we really donít want to send more rovers built on the same basic design. The existing rovers are quite limited in terms of both mobility and in terms of what kinds of science they can perform. They are also limited in what places on Mars they can effectively operate. Their dependence on solar power limited them to areas close to the equator. Their delivery system limited them to relatively flat landing sites. Their limited life span limited how much exploring they could do when they got there. In looking at future rovers, we really need to look beyond the current design to create rovers with greater mobility, greater flexibility, and greater scientific capabilities.

You should never rest on your laurels when it comes to space exploration or any other worthwhile endeavor. This should be as much about pushing the limits of technology as about pushing the limits of exploration.

Manchurian Taikonaut
2004-Mar-15, 02:04 PM
yes, they should send more rover probes straight away, but there are slight complications, so I don't think it will happen so quickly. It seems our progess has somewhat slowed down since the great viking missions of the 70s, some say these new rovers are paving the way for a manned mission to mars.

http://www.universetoday.com/am/uploads/spirit_landing_sw_full.jpg

http://www.cardmagnets.com/TotalRecall/TRECALL007.JPG

Kaptain K
2004-Mar-17, 05:15 AM
Even if we decided to send more, there is the little technicality known as "launch windows". We couldn't send any more until 2005 anyway.