WOOD, TEXAS–It was largely buried in the detailed budget justification NASA today announced the discovery of NASA at the Global and Planetary Science Conference: NASA's next flagship mission, the March 2020 rover, with a budget of 2.46 billion, follows the pattern of predecessors and see its cost increase due to technical problems.
The cost of the mission will not increase by more than 15 percent, said Lori Glaze, acting director of NASA's global science today. But this huge sum – which could amount to several hundred million dollars, according to the latest calculations of the agency – will reduce the costs of other projects, including small operations in the current Mars missions.
Admission is a blow to NASA, which, although it originally allowed Mars 2020 to develop in scope and ambition earlier this decade, had been proud of it stay within the spending limits established by the agency in 2016.
According to Glaze, small internal efficiencies need to be achieved internally, which, like its predecessor, Curiosity, is being developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasadena, California. Some works may be postponed, some delays shortened; the end of the rover Opportunity, which expired late last year on Mars, will help. But for the most part, it is expected that the costs will be borne by existing Mars mission operations and by the funds that the Agency reserves for future missions, including the return of rock samples that Mars 2020 will collect. "We tried to spread it so that no one felt any pain," says Glaze.
Three main instruments of March 2020 are at the origin of this cost growth. One is the Essential and Complex Sampling Caching System (SCS), which he will use to collect and store samples for possible return to Earth. Two new rover instruments that will be mounted on its robotic arm, the planetary instrument for X-ray lithochemistry (PIXL) and scanning living environments with Raman and luminescence for organic and chemical products (SHERLOC), also Known technical setbacks, although the agency did not detail these. The three instruments were developed mainly by JPL.
Time is running out for the rover. March 2020 takes shape on the floor of the famous JPL clean room, and the instruments of the team members outside JPL had to start arriving for integration earlier this year. The launch of the mission is scheduled for July 2020 and the agency has given no indication that this date could slip.
The announcement of March 2020 comes after Thomas Zurbuchen, scientific manager of the agency, announced on March 5 due to rising costs, it was cutting – or stripping, in NASA's slang – a magnetometer instrument for its next flagship mission, the Europa Clipper, also developed by JPL. Europa's internal characterization instrument using magnetometry (ICEMAG) had its projected budget tripled to $ 45.6 million, and the remaining technical risks could have raised its price. "The level of cost growth on ICEMAG is not acceptable," wrote Zurbuchen. "As a result, I decided to close the investigation of ICEMAG." The instrument will be replaced by a simpler model, with development led by researchers and engineers from the United States. University of California at Los Angeles.
At the NASA party, some scientists said it was unfair that ICEMAG was abolished as the March 2020 instruments continued. But the comparison is not fair, says Glaze. March 2020 is so advanced in its development that stripping an instrument would save barely money. "There is a huge amount of material built," she says. However, the Clipper is still in preparation, its launch is planned for 2023. The future flagship missions, as well as the powerful centers of NASA which develop them, will have to be included in the budgets which are allotted to them, she adds. "They must take this seriously."