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Assessment of NASA’s Mars Architecture 2007–2016 Executive Summary This assessment by the ad hoc Committee to Review the Next Decade Mars Architecture was conducted at the request of Dr. Mary Cleave, NASA’s Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, who asked the National Research Council (NRC) to address the following three questions: Is the Mars architecture reflective of the strategies, priorities, and guidelines put forward by the National Research Council’s solar system exploration decadal survey and related science strategies and NASA plans? Does the revised Mars architecture address the goals of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program and optimize the science return, given the current fiscal posture of the program? Does the Mars architecture represent a reasonably balanced mission portfolio? It is important to note that the original order of the questions posed by Dr. Cleave was 2, 3, and 1. That is, the one that now appears first was originally listed as last. The committee has taken the liberty of reordering the questions because it is strongly of the opinion that logic dictates that it start its assessment of the Mars architecture by first addressing the architecture’s scientific foundations. Following presentations, discussions, and deliberations, the committee developed the following findings and offers specific recommendations relating to each: 1. Is the Mars architecture reflective of the strategies, priorities, and guidelines put forward by the NRC’s solar system exploration decadal survey and related science strategies and NASA plans? The committee finds that the proposed Mars architecture addresses some of the strategies, priorities, and guidelines promoted by the solar system exploration (SSE) decadal survey and the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) and is basically consistent with NASA’s plans as exemplified by the agency’s 2006 strategic plan1 and the Vision for Space Exploration.2 However, the absence of a sample return mission and a geophysical/ meteorological network mission runs counter to the recommendations of the SSE decadal survey and significantly reduces the architecture’s scientific impact. Other topics of concern include the lack of well-defined mission parameters and scientific objectives for the Mars Science and Telecommunications Orbiter, Astrobiology Field Laboratory, and Mid Rover missions; issues relating to the phasing and responsiveness
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Assessment of NASA’s Mars Architecture 2007–2016 of these missions to the results obtained from past missions; and the incompletely articulated links between these missions and the priorities enunciated by the SSE decadal survey and MEPAG. The committee offers the following recommendations to NASA: Recommendation: Include the Mars Long-Lived Lander Network in the mix of options for the 2016 launch opportunity. Recommendation: Consider delaying the launch of the Astrobiology Field Laboratory until 2018 to permit an informed decision of its merits and the selection of an appropriate instrument complement in the context of a mature consideration of the results from the Mars Science Laboratory and other prior missions. Recommendation: Establish science and technology definition teams for the Astrobiology Field Laboratory, the Mars Science and Telecommunications Orbiter, the Mid Rovers, and the Mars Long-Lived Lander Network as soon as possible to optimize science and mission design in concert with each other. (This model has been employed successfully by the heliospheric community.) Recommendation: Devise a strategy to implement the Mars Sample Return mission, and ensure that a program is started at the earliest possible opportunity to develop the technology necessary to enable this mission. 2. Does the revised Mars architecture address the goals of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program and optimize the science return, given the current fiscal posture of the program? The committee finds that it cannot definitively say whether or not the revised Mars architecture addresses the goals of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program because the architecture lacks sufficient detail with respect to the science and the cost to allow a complete evaluation. The various mission options are, as stated above, incompletely defined, and the strategic approach to, and the selection criteria to distinguish among, various mission options are lacking. The presence of Mars Scout missions in the architecture is welcomed because they help to optimize the science return and provide balance. Nevertheless, the Mars architecture as a whole is not optimized, because the importance of foundational strategic elements—for example, research and analysis programs and technology development—is not articulated. In response to this finding, the committee offers the following recommendations to NASA: Recommendation: Develop and articulate criteria for distinguishing between the three options for missions to launch in 2016. Similarly, define a strategy that addresses the short lead time between science results obtained from the Mars Science Laboratory and selection of the mission to fly in 2016. Recommendation: Clarify how trade-offs involving mission costs versus science were made for the various launch opportunities to justify the rationale behind the proposed sequence of specific missions and the exclusion of others. Recommendation: Maintain the Mars Scouts as entities distinct from the core missions of the Mars Exploration Program. Scout missions should not be restricted by the planning for core missions, and the core missions should not depend on selecting particular types of Scout missions. Recommendation: Immediately initiate appropriate technology development activities to support all of the missions considered for the period 2013-2016 and to support the Mars Sample Return mission as soon as possible thereafter. Recommendation: Ensure a vigorous research and analysis (R&A) program to maintain the scientific and technical infrastructure and expertise necessary to implement the Mars architecture, and encourage collaboration on international missions. 3. Does the Mars architecture represent a reasonably balanced mission portfolio? The committee finds that in the context of the basic types of missions, the Mars architecture is a reasonably well balanced one: both landed and orbital missions are included in an appropriate mix, given the current state of Mars exploration.
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Assessment of NASA’s Mars Architecture 2007–2016 To the extent that the specific science objectives of the proposed missions are defined, one of the three crosscutting themes for the exploration of Mars identified in the SSE decadal survey is largely neglected, as are very high priority topics related to understanding near-surface and boundary-layer atmospheric sciences, and so, in this respect, balance is sorely lacking. To optimize efforts to implement a balanced portfolio of missions, the committee offers the following recommendations to NASA: Recommendation: Include the Mars Long-Lived Lander Network in the mix of options for the 2016 launch opportunity. Recommendation: If the Mars Long-Lived Lander Network cannot be implemented in the period under consideration, provide for an effort to make some of the highest-priority measurements on the landed missions that are included in the proposed Mars architecture. Recommendation: Ensure that the primary role of the Mars Science and Telecommunications Orbiter is to address science questions, and not simply to serve as a telecommunications relay. This distinction is particularly important with respect to the required orbital parameters that are adopted. NOTES 1. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), 2006 Strategic Plan, NP-2006-02-423-HQ, NASA, Washington, D.C., 2004. Available at <www.nasa.gov/pdf/142302main_2006_NASA_Strategic_Plan.pdf>. 2. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), The Vision for Space Exploration, NP-2004-01-334-HQ, NASA, Washington, D.C., 2004. Available at <www.nasa.gov/pdf/55583main_vision_space_exploration.pdf>.
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