Mars redux: NASA to launch Curiosity-like rover (Update)

Dec 04, 2012 by Alicia Chang
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If you thought NASA's latest Mars landing was a nail-biter, get ready for a sequel.

The space agency on Tuesday announced plans to launch another mega-rover to the red planet in 2020 that will be modeled after the wildly popular Curiosity.

To keep costs down, engineers will borrow Curiosity's blueprints, recycle spare parts where possible and use proven technology including the novel landing gear that delivered the car-size rover inside an ancient crater in August.

The announcement comes as NASA reboots its Mars exploration program during tough fiscal times.

"The action right now is on the surface, and that's where we want to be," said NASA sciences chief John Grunsfeld.

Like Curiosity, the mission will be led by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. But many other details still need to be worked out, including where the rover will land and the types of tools it will carry to the surface.

While the science goals remain fuzzy, Grunsfeld said the rover at the very least should kickstart a campaign to return Martian soil and rocks to Earth—a goal trumpeted by many scientists as key to searching for evidence of past life. Curiosity doesn't have that capability.

In the coming months, a team of experts will debate whether the new rover should have the ability to drill into rocks and store pieces for a future pickup—either by another spacecraft or humans.

NASA is under orders by the White House to send astronauts to circle Mars in the 2030s followed by a landing.

Despite Curiosity's daring touchdown, its road to the launch pad was bumpy. At $2.5 billion, the project ran over schedule and over budget.

Jim Green, head of NASA's planetary science division, said the engineering hurdles have been fixed and he expected the new rover to cost less than Curiosity. One independent estimate put the mission at $1.5 billion, though NASA is working on its own figure.

"It's hard not to feel a little Mars-envy," Mike Brown, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology who focuses on the outer solar system, said in an email.

Brown added that he understood NASA's decision given the pressure to fly humans to Earth's neighbor.

A Curiosity redux makes sense, said American University space policy expert Howard McCurdy.

"Let's hope that it can take advantage of economies of scale, in which case it would cost less than the Curiosity mission," he said. "That sort of approach would extend our exploration capability while freeing funds for other expeditions."

Mars is bracing for a flurry of activity over the next several years. Next year, NASA plans to launch an orbiter to study the atmosphere.

After NASA pulled out of a partnership with the Europeans in 2016 and 2018, it announced plans to fly a relatively low-cost robotic lander in 2016 to probe the interior. The space agency has since said it will contribute to the European missions, but in a minor role.

Rep. Adam Schiff, who has been critical of NASA budget cuts in the past, praised the latest news to land a Curiosity-like rover. Still, the California Democrat said he preferred an earlier launch date.

Grunsfeld said a 2020 launch is already an "aggressive schedule."

Explore further: Bright points in Sun's atmosphere mark patterns deep in its interior

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User comments : 18

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SleepTech
5 / 5 (2) Dec 04, 2012
NASA cancels their joint ExoMars mission with ESA at the cost of $1.4 billion, and one year later announces its own mission at the cost of $1.5 billion? Curiosity's $1.5 billion pricetag was only the initial price, the costs eventually inflated to $2.5 billion. Why should we expect anything different from this?
geokstr
2.8 / 5 (13) Dec 04, 2012
2020?

Won't we have to get permission to land from the Chinese colony of New Beijing?
dav_daddy
4 / 5 (8) Dec 04, 2012
NASA cancels their joint ExoMars mission with ESA at the cost of $1.4 billion, and one year later announces its own mission at the cost of $1.5 billion? Curiosity's $1.5 billion pricetag was only the initial price, the costs eventually inflated to $2.5 billion. Why should we expect anything different from this?


A lot of the 2.5bil price was due the the fact that they were building a brand new rover. Along the way the thing had to be redesinged to add functionality that wasn't part of the original design. This time around from what I read here they will be using largely surplus parts from the first rover. Even if they don't have leftover parts the fact that they have already built one of these will decrease the costs signifigantly.
Argiod
1.3 / 5 (13) Dec 04, 2012
People struggling to keep their heads above water to feed their families; and we throw billions into the sky to study some dead, barren piece of rock... It's like a man spending all his money on some dumb hobby while his children starve to death.
SleepTech
4.6 / 5 (5) Dec 05, 2012
A lot of the 2.5bil price was due the the fact that they were building a brand new rover. Along the way the thing had to be redesinged to add functionality that wasn't part of the original design. This time around from what I read here they will be using largely surplus parts from the first rover. Even if they don't have leftover parts the fact that they have already built one of these will decrease the costs signifigantly.


During the Q&A session earlier today Mr. Grunsfeld hesitantly admitted that several of the companies that existed for the construction of Curiosity are no longer in business and that they would need to find a way to procure certain parts, which they haven't worked out yet. Look, I'm not one of these loons who thinks that $1.5 billion on space is a waste when on this same exact day Congress approved a $600 billion and counting bill for "defense", but at the same time I am very pessimistic about the final cost of this mission.
Osiris1
1.8 / 5 (5) Dec 05, 2012
We will have to get permission from the Chinese, and buy an entry visa for 'New China Rising' or be vaporized by their nuclear laser on approaching closer than 200,000 miles....And we will have to pay for any Helium 3 fusion fuel we destroy on landing, at the retail cost for the least priviledged electric consumer, the homeowner in California on tier 7, a buck a destroyed kilowatt (one picogram) We will also need a license to traverse Chinese owned outer space, as the Chinese will also claim the entire solar system and by extension the Universe. U know, today the South China Sea, tomorrow Lake Baikal, and next week Viet-Nam and Thailand.
rah
3.5 / 5 (8) Dec 05, 2012
2020?

Won't we have to get permission to land from the Chinese colony of New Beijing?

No, because we were purchased by China in 2018.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) Dec 05, 2012
Mars is exiting and all - but I would rather have seen a mission to Europa, IO or Ganymede with some ice-driling and searching for sub-crust oceans.
Shinobiwan Kenobi
3 / 5 (6) Dec 05, 2012
Mars is exiting and all - but I would rather have seen a mission to Europa, IO or Ganymede with some ice-driling and searching for sub-crust oceans.


Titan would be pretty boss as well.
GSwift7
3 / 5 (8) Dec 05, 2012
Mars is exiting and all - but I would rather have seen a mission to Europa, IO or Ganymede with some ice-driling and searching for sub-crust oceans.

Titan would be pretty boss as well


I think a rover mission closer to Mars' north pole would have value. We need to analyze the water ice and see what kind of impurities it has in it. Another thing we may want to set as a target on Mars are the volcanic lava tubes in the Olympus Mons area. Those could be valuable real estate for colonists, since they may provide prefabricated shelters from radiation. They could even have water ice in them. It would be a game changer if we find a good source of water closer to the equator on Mars.

Outer planets and their moons seem like longer-term goals to me. Eventually we're going to want to check out the Kuiper belt and Oort cloud as well, but that's even farther down the road, on my map.

Mars is our best chance to do something besides robotic science. We need a big achievement.
PeteK
4.4 / 5 (7) Dec 05, 2012
People struggling to keep their heads above water to feed their families; and we throw billions into the sky to study some dead, barren piece of rock... It's like a man spending all his money on some dumb hobby while his children starve to death.


People forget that the money spent on research and development of these space programs actually employ good jobs for Americans. These jobs also pay back taxes that helps to pay for the social programs that you would spent the research and manufacturing money for. Unlike many who are on the Wellfare roll. I work in the space/defence/aerospace industry. These highly skilled jobs would disappear if it were not for such programs. So before you wish to stop the spending on space, think a little about the return.
VendicarD
3 / 5 (2) Dec 06, 2012
They should call it the Inquisitive rover. Not quite Curiosity, but quite similar.

Will America exist as a single nation in 2020 to send such a Rover?

Nope.
zaxxon451
3 / 5 (2) Dec 09, 2012
How many frikkin rovers do we need on Mars? The last one just got there. How about we let it do its job, analyze the data, and then decide what to do next.
philw1776
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 09, 2012
This administration has decimated NASA's space science budget because of needs to fund the continuing overspending for the JWST fiasco and worse yet to fund the SLS boondoggle which is not a launch vehicle development but a congressional district jobs program.
VendicarD
not rated yet Dec 09, 2012
42

"How many frikkin rovers do we need on Mars?" - zaxxon451
VendicarD
1 / 5 (1) Dec 09, 2012
They were such fools to make the Liberty bell to. It cracked.

"continuing overspending for the JWST fiasco" - philw1776

So much for failed American Liberty.

Meyer
not rated yet Dec 10, 2012
They were such fools to make the Liberty bell to. It cracked.

Apparently those London foundries aren't what they're cracked up to be.
Meyer
5 / 5 (1) Dec 10, 2012
People struggling to keep their heads above water to feed their families; and we throw billions into the sky to study some dead, barren piece of rock... It's like a man spending all his money on some dumb hobby while his children starve to death.

Amen, brother! And why do people BURY nutritious SEEDS in the DIRT when CHILDREN are STARVING?

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