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Potential Landing Sites for EU Mars Rover Selected

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the going-on-up dept.

Mars 79

kfz versicherung writes "In 2013 the European Space Agency will launch its mission to Mars - ExoMars. The multi-million-euro mission calls for a rover weighing just over 200kg that can trundle over the martian soil in search of past and present life. Now prime landing spots have been selected. The list includes two sites at Meridiani Planum, the flat expanse near Mars' equator where Nasa's Opportunity found possible evidence for an ancient sea. Early in Earth's history, all the primordial biochemistry took place in phyllosilicates, some kind of mineral that is a good matrix for preserving organic matter. Scientists are guessing that a similar site is the best place to start looking for fossil life on the Red Planet."

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Maybe (1)

moogied (1175879) | more than 6 years ago | (#21379921)

If we're lucky the american rovers can go high five the russian rover in 6 years. :)

ps. Because this is /., I have to add in that I relize they will NOT be running. Its a JOKEY POO!

Re:Maybe (5, Funny)

Harmonious Botch (921977) | more than 6 years ago | (#21380153)

Hi-five? No, they will mug the Russian rover for batteries and spare parts.

Re:Maybe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21386115)

In Soviet Russia, Rover mug you!

Please help (0, Offtopic)

Dog Chapman (942321) | more than 6 years ago | (#21379929)

I have a problem - I hate Slashdot and all its filthy overweight users - if this conversation is leaked to the public I am finished....

Apparently... (0, Troll)

aproposofwhat (1019098) | more than 6 years ago | (#21379957)

After the raging success (not) of the last effort, they're looking for somewhere soft to land.

Re:Apparently... (1)

phillips321 (955784) | more than 6 years ago | (#21380387)

surely landing site maps like this should allow them to make better judgement this time.
these guys are the pros for a reason
http://www.forumpix.co.uk/uploads/1195231948.jpg [forumpix.co.uk]

Yeah... (-1, Offtopic)

OMRebel (920875) | more than 6 years ago | (#21379977)

But can it run Linux?

Re:Yeah... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21385081)

Are you new here?

Multi-million euro? (1)

john83 (923470) | more than 6 years ago | (#21380015)

Esa officials have told member states to expect ExoMars to cost in the region of one billion euros.
That's a lot of money. Anyone have figures for the cost of the various other Mars rovers and landers?

Re:Multi-million euro? (4, Informative)

Ashran (107876) | more than 6 years ago | (#21380201)

Mars Rover: According this article [space.com] on space.com

The mission's total cost -- about $600 million -- may have to be deferred from NASA's budget, Weiler said, but would not cause the cancellation of any other mission at NASA. The Mars rovers are an "agency priority," he said. The second rover costs about $200 million, half of the $300 million to $450 million to build and launch the first.

Wikipedia on MER Mission [wikipedia.org]

The total cost of building, launching, landing and operating the rovers on the surface for the initial 90 day primary mission was about US $820 million)

And according to the (Pathfinder [wikipedia.org] site on wikipedia

Viking missions cost $935 million in 1974 or $3.5 billion in 1997 (not adjusted for inflation) Pathfinder mission $280 million, including the launch vehicle and mission operations.

Re:Multi-million euro? (4, Informative)

iamlucky13 (795185) | more than 6 years ago | (#21381713)

Mars Rover and MER in your response are the same thing. The Space.com article is very out of date, and they had some cost overruns after that which pushed the mission to $820 million, which included I believe the first year of operations and science. I believe NASA has spent another couple hundred million on operations and science due to the extensions...a lot of money, but a lot less than equivalent new missions.

Also, the Mars Science Laboratory [nasa.gov] currently being built for a launch in 2009 is looking to cost around $1.8 billion USD (a little over a billion Euros, IIRC). It will be nuclear-powered, land completely ready to go instead of in those nifty airbags the MER's came in on, and is roughly the size of a Volkswagen (which is why the airbags won't work). It's supposed to last about 2 years, so if it runs the way the MER's have, NASA will still be trying to kill it off 20 years from now (just kidding...that's ridiculously unlikely).

MSL also ran into budget issues, and has increased in cost several times over the last couple of years, so NASA recently cancelled two rather fascinating instruments to keep the cost down. The first was the descent imager, which I'm not sure how much scientific value it would've had, but the time-lapse video of the descent would have been fascinating. The other was the ChemCam, a marvelous laser and spectrometer combo that would allow scientists to analyze the chemical composition of rocks from up to 40 feet away. However, the descent imager on the Mars Phoenix Lander currently en route turned out to have a fatal flaw, so the operations budget for that got switched to the construction budget for the MSL. Also, the Chemcam team realized that it had come down to defeaturing the Chemcam or not flying it all, and went with the former option to get back in budget. They got some extra money that was saved because Mars Phoenix launched on time. Unfortunately, the sweet zoom capability of the mast camera was cut out and not re-instated.

Re:Multi-million euro? (1)

Cally (10873) | more than 6 years ago | (#21384283)

Mars Science Laboratory currently being built for a launch in 2009 is looking to cost around $1.8 billion USD (a little over a billion Euros, IIRC). I
I just took a look at the 5y euro:dollar chart [yahoo.com] to check the rates -- I hadn't realised it was quite so drastic. $1 now gets you less than 70 eurocents, so $1.8 billion == EUR 2.6 billion.

Re:Multi-million euro? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21384689)

Oops...you divided by 0.7 instead of multiplied. $1.8 GigaUSD =~ 1.2 GigaEUR

Re:Multi-million euro? (1)

Domini Canes (797151) | more than 6 years ago | (#21389697)

Heh, sloppy math. If

$1 now gets you less than 70 eurocents,
then $1.8 billion EUR 1.26 billion

Re:Multi-million euro? (1)

ross.w (87751) | more than 6 years ago | (#21383453)

Like all european vehicles - it's all about the badge

European Rover (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21380071)

Why don't we just pick the site that will have the most interesting impact crater when this thing inevitably crashes in to a million expensive peices?

I vote that the Europeans attempt to crash in to an American rover. Maby then it will have an impact.

Re:European Rover (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21383097)

Why don't we just pick the site that will have the most interesting impact crater when this thing inevitably crashes in to a million expensive peices?

I vote your house ;-)
   

First time luck I hope (1)

jshriverWVU (810740) | more than 6 years ago | (#21380215)

We've been sending satellites and objects to mars for a long time now (USA) some succeeded several failed. This being the EU first rover I really hope it makes it. Mars has a tendency to chew up man made objects.

Re:First time luck I hope (2, Informative)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21381087)

Like the ESA's Beagle 2 [wikipedia.org] ? This is not their first rover.

Fate of Beagle 2 (3, Funny)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 6 years ago | (#21381343)

I'm telling ya', when we do finally get there we are going to find Beagle 2 with no wheels, the antenna busted off (used to smash open the camera lenses), and strange graffiti that translates to "All your rover are belong to us!" in Martian.

Re:First time luck I hope (1)

idamaybrown (584881) | more than 6 years ago | (#21381401)

He meant a rover that works.

Re:First time luck I hope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21383795)

Beagle was not a rover. It was a stationary lander. This will be ESA's first rover.

Re:First time luck I hope (1)

icebrain (944107) | more than 6 years ago | (#21385353)

Beagle 2 was not a rover; it was a stationary lander.

Re:First time luck I hope (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 6 years ago | (#21384007)

Mars has a tendency to chew up man made objects.

Well being Europe there is at least one less thing to go wrong [bbc.co.uk] because we all use metric units.

Won't Be Long... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21380313)

...before we'll need traffic lights on Mars

The Real Site Selection Question is... (-1, Offtopic)

Tiger4 (840741) | more than 6 years ago | (#21380319)

Roswell or Sedona ? Or have they got that place in Nevada opened up again? The Steve Fossett flap made them go into deep cover.

Public relations (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21380323)

This is just a way to keep their rover project in the news. It would be wise on ESA's part to have a successful lander before attempting the rover mission, but hey, its their Euro. The nuclear powered Mars Science Laboratory launches in summer 2009 and they haven't committed to a landing site. What for? NASA has an eagle eyed spacecraft in orbit in the Global Surveyor that is discovering great stuff all the time.

Life with phyllosilicates? (5, Interesting)

dhirsch226 (575367) | more than 6 years ago | (#21380371)

The posting states "all the primordial biochemistry took place in phyllosilicates, some kind of mineral that is a good matrix for preserving organic matter". This is partially wrong, partially misleading, and partially speculative.
  • First, phyllosilicates are minerals whose structure is built out of SiO4 tetrahedra polymerized into 2-D sheets at the atomic scale. Examples are clay minerals and micas (biotite and muscovite, principally).
  • Second, the "life began on phyllosilicates" is merely an interesting hypothesis, and has not made it to the stage of theory. The basis for this is that phyllosilicates have those sheets stacked up in a periodic structure, and the spacing can be on the order of the spacing in RNA (disclaimer: I'm no expert on this hypothesis, and I don't have the paper in front of me now).
  • Finally, there's no way that phyllosilicates, or any mineral, are going to "preserve organic matter". Organic matter preservation is simply related to the history of the material (e.g., temperature, pressure, time).
-Dave Hirsch
Assoc. Prof. of Geology
Western WA Univ.

Re:Life with phyllosilicates? (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 6 years ago | (#21421345)

The posting states "all the primordial biochemistry took place in phyllosilicates, some kind of mineral that is a good matrix for preserving organic matter". This is partially wrong, partially misleading, and partially speculative.

Anything right about it ?
Actually I was wondering what to do about that comment - it is significantly confusing. You beat me to it.
  • First, phyllosilicates are minerals whose structure is built out of SiO4 tetrahedra polymerized into 2-D sheets at the atomic scale. Examples are clay minerals and micas (biotite and muscovite, principally).
    tHERE'S A (VARIABLE AMOUNT OF ALUMINIUM SUBSTITUTION (Damned CapsLock!) for the silicon, with coupled amounts of different cations (typically Mg, Ca, or K) in between the sheets of silica tetrahedra to maintain charge balance. (I am certain that you know this ; I mention it to make the following point more comprehensible for the audience.)
  • Second, the "life began on phyllosilicates" is merely an interesting hypothesis, and has not made it to the stage of theory. The basis for this is that phyllosilicates have those sheets stacked up in a periodic structure, and the spacing can be on the order of the spacing in RNA (disclaimer: I'm no expert on this hypothesis, and I don't have the paper in front of me now).
    The arrangement of aluminium substitutions in the silica sheet can have slightly different energy levels, with differing levels of stability in a variety of geologically plausible pore fluids. Alan Graham Cairns-Smith (at one of the Glasgow universities) proposed that this could form a genetic system, storing information within the physical arrangement of these defects and with a phenotypic expression in the shape of the crystals,which could influence the flow of fluids through rocks. AGC-S proposes that such a system could have been a carbon-free living system (for some definitions of "living") which provided a basis for the start of Darwinian selection leading to eventual replacement of the inorganic elements with faster-reacting organic elements. He did a very interesting lecture tour back in about 1986, which I guess was linked to his book
    "Seven Clues to the Origin of Life : A Scientific Detective Story" Publisher: Cambridge University Press (29 Aug 1985)ISBN-10: 0521275229 or
    "Genetic Takeover And the Mineral Origins of Life" Publisher: Cambridge University Press New edition (28 Aug 1987) ISBN-10: 0521346827. He's been working on this thesis (in between his day job as a research chemist) for a long time, the first publication of his on the topic that I can find is
    "Life Puzzle: Crystals and Organisms and on the Possibility of a Crystal as an Ancestor" Publisher: Oliver & B (Sep 1971) ISBN-10: 0050022970). I remember "Seven Clues" as being one of the first books I ever ordered from Amazon. And guess what - I can't find my damned copy now either!
      I see that Mr (Dr?) Cairns-Smith has actually published something since then :
    "Evolving the Mind: On the Nature of Matter and the Origin of Consciousness" Publisher: Cambridge University Press (21 Mar 1996) ISBN-10: 0521402204 . I think I'll read some of my other books before feeling the temptation to that though. (Did you see the new Ediacara book from Geol.Soc.Lond.? I won a copy a couple of weeks back, and it's cluttering up the bedside table under 'A Clockwork Orange'. Sounds fun. For certain (geological) values of "fun".)
  • Finally, there's no way that phyllosilicates, or any mineral, are going to "preserve organic matter". Organic matter preservation is simply related to the history of the material (e.g., temperature, pressure, time).
    Ummm, I think there are indications that the nature of clay mineralogy can have stabilising (or de-stabilising) influences on the maturation of organic matter in oil source rocks. It's not a 100% preservation (or destruction) thing, but I'm pretty sure that the effect is non-trivial. Minor quibble.

don't they mean crash site? (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 6 years ago | (#21380837)

Given the past history of Mars probes (and european/UK ones in particular) I think they should choose a location that's featureless and well photographed, so that when the vehicle does go SPLAT! they'll at least be able to see where it's pieces are.

Re:don't they mean crash site? (1)

mdwh2 (535323) | more than 6 years ago | (#21386659)

(and european/UK ones in particular)

Surely there's only been one european mission to Mars - which was a success, with a UK lander which failed. All the rest [marsflight.org] are US and USSR, and there've been plenty of failures.

I'll bet the team... (1)

Jumphard (1079023) | more than 6 years ago | (#21380953)

...simply made a http://www.google.com/mars/ [google.com] mash-up to select the landing sites.

why not lots of rovers ? (5, Interesting)

cats-paw (34890) | more than 6 years ago | (#21380975)

Why does NASA have a fixation on sending single units to Mars ?

Why can't NASA work on a mission which will deposit 10's or 100's of rovers ?

Granted, there is a weight problem here, since each rover would have to be very light to carry that many of them to Mars.

However imagine the coolness factor of 20 or 30 sojourners running around the surface of mars. You could split modularized science experiments up among them, having a basic structure and each having a set of modular science experiment units.

With modularized components built in (relatively) large quantities the marginal cost of sending 30 rovers to Mars should be minimal.

Seems to me that your chances of finding something interesting go up dramatically.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 6 years ago | (#21381497)

Uh, because 100s of rovers cost at least 10's as much more to acquire and 100s of times more to launch.

The Sojourner is not a valid model for what you want because it was far too small to be autonomous of the lander.

        Brett

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#21382949)

Launch costs go down significantly with increased launch volume. There are high fixed costs there.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 6 years ago | (#21383497)

No, the long term costs go down if a high volume is sustained or if the current infrastructure can trivially support higher volume. For a single one off launch the costs are higher as all the launch/manufacturing facilities need to be upgraded (and the extra capacity will see little future use).

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#21384819)

Launching dozens of copies of a vehicle (as was proposed way back when in this thread) isn't one off, so we can rule out that scenario. I otherwise agree with you.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 6 years ago | (#21384927)

Well it is one off in the sense that you launch a dozen copies of something ONCE (ie: within a short period of time). All the infrastructure needed to build and launch these things becomes worthless once they are launched, assuming you have nothing else to use it for. It has to be a one off thign as otherwise there is a constant bugdet drain on NASA from the high number of launches which is likely way beyond it's ability to pay for (long term). Now you could launch them over a long period of time but then it's not much use as you're sending quite obsolete devices after a short period of time.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#21384979)

That's assuming you never want to build probes again. A number of businesses and organizations have found ways to reuse designs or infrastructure.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 6 years ago | (#21383693)

>Launch costs go down significantly with increased
>launch volume. There are high fixed costs there.

      No, they don't. The current crop of boosters are developed, no plausible launch rate will bring it down significantly. For a Mars launch you are probably looking at at the very least $50 million a shot, and that's for a "one at a time" sized launcher. Forget "CATS" nonsense analysis, they can't come close to doing this mission. The *probes* would be cheaper en-masse, but not nearly enough. Any we haven't even discussed operations support costs.

        IF it were a high priority, there's no doubt that it could be done as you suggest, but be prepared to raise NASA's budget by a factor of about 10 at least. Right now, NASA's budget is .58% of the entire Federal budget. Raise it enough to do this project and the costs start getting up to level competitive with national defense. Not going to happen.

        Brett

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#21384785)

No, they don't. The current crop of boosters are developed, no plausible launch rate will bring it down significantly.

Eh? Atlas V, Delta II and IV, Space Shuttle, Proton, Soyuz, Ariane V, etc. All have high fixed costs. None of them launch more often than 10 times a year. A rate of 20 times a year would probably shave 10-30% per launch off any given launch vehicle. Launching 100 probes at a time would see deep discounts on any vehicle.

For a Mars launch you are probably looking at at the very least $50 million a shot, and that's for a "one at a time" sized launcher. Forget "CATS" nonsense analysis, they can't come close to doing this mission. The *probes* would be cheaper en-masse, but not nearly enough. Any we haven't even discussed operations support costs.

The Mars Rovers were launched in 2003 on Delta II for $50 million each. There were seven Delta II launches that year including the two for the Mars Rovers. It's stupid to claim $50 million launch costs for 100 similar probe launches just because that was the price for 2 probe launches.

IF it were a high priority, there's no doubt that it could be done as you suggest, but be prepared to raise NASA's budget by a factor of about 10 at least. Right now, NASA's budget is .58% of the entire Federal budget. Raise it enough to do this project and the costs start getting up to level competitive with national defense. Not going to happen.

If we launched a 100 Mars rover missions using the above numbers and noting that the cost of a second Mars rover was $200 million (additional rovers would, of course, be cheaper, but we'll ignore that), I'd say the construction costs would be around $20 billion plus $5 billion for launch costs. Operational costs were $75 million for two for as I understand it a year of operation. If one assumed incorrectly that operation costs scale linearly to 100 rovers, you get $3.75 billion. So in theory, you could have almost $30 billion in costs for 100 Mars rover vehicles for one year of operation on Mars taking no economies of scale into account. That's almost double the current NASA budget. Not bad for the money spent. As I see it, you could be launching 50 state of the art probes per year for the money put into NASA now.

But now let's try to estimate what those economies of scale would get us. Let's say we have 50 launches a year and those only drive the cost of a Delta II launch down to half ($25 million, a good conservative estimate). Further, let's use the rule of thumb that doubling the production of the probe drops its price per unit by 15%. There are five more doublings in 100, so that gives us a price per unit at the tail of under 45% of the price for the second probe. I think it reasonable to estimate the cost per probe at $100 million per. Finally, operations is a great place to save money. I see the cost of operations as proportional to the log of the number of probes. 100 probes should only be a modest multiple more difficult to control than 2. Let's say conservatively, a factor of 10 more costly. Then you have costs at $10 billion construction, less than $500 million in R&D, launch costs of $2.5 billion, and $750 million for operations. Less than a year's worth of NASA funding.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (2, Insightful)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 6 years ago | (#21387879)

Uh, yeah. I work in this business. . They cost what they cost, and the margin is already minimal - particularly on the Delta II, whose development cost was paid 30 years ago). Half the price *won't buy the parts and the labor it takes to assemble them*. The economies of scale won't cut the price in half, at most it will knock off 5% or so. Even during the idiotic "little LEO" era, no one thought it was going to be done with existing launchers. And no one involved thought it could be done for what you would require - about $5 million a pop. And you need another 7500 FPS over a little LEO launch.

        This is pointless argument - it's completely ludicrous. There's no particular value (scientific or otherwise) to sending 100 autonomous rovers to Mars, and it's going to cost on the order of 10 billion dollars that aren't and won't be available.

              Brett

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#21389545)

What bothers me here is that the state space hasn't been explored here. Delta II has launched 130 times in 18 years. That's pretty low. I grant I could be mistaken about what Boeing could do, if they had customers who wanted 50 launches a year. That the Delta II manufacture and launch process couldn't be modified to take advantage of potential economies of scale. I don't buy it however. I see substantial economies of scale with various ICBM designs, the Proton and Soyuz, and of course, in the original V2 construction. Granted every one of those projects (with the exception of the Russian space launch vehicles) was planned with high volume from the start. It might take a considerable sum to adapt Delta II to a higher volume business.

The economies of scale won't cut the price in half, at most it will knock off 5% or so.

I see that the launch costs for the Mars rovers were well below the costs of other projects using the Delta II. So a 50% reduction is too much to expect. I grant then that it may have been near the marginal cost for the Delta II. Still given that 100 launch vehicles would be 80% of the lifetime total for the Delta II, I find the above claim to be dubious. If the Delta II can't figure out how cut costs in that environment, then they're far less competent than I would have expected.

This is pointless argument - it's completely ludicrous. There's no particular value (scientific or otherwise) to sending 100 autonomous rovers to Mars, and it's going to cost on the order of 10 billion dollars that aren't and won't be available.

You are correct here. The point I was trying to make is that one can't take the cost of two spacecraft, multiply that by 50 , and get the cost for 100 spacecraft. But having said that, if the probe or spacecraft were worth building in the first place, then it makes sense to make multiple copies. For example, it was foolish in my view, not to make a second or even third Hubble telescope (all with overlapping instruments). With the Mars rover, they could have built 3 more for about the same cost as the first two. 100 Mars rovers would be absurd, but 3 more? I think that would be reasonable use of NASA funds. Consistently doing this would result in less projects overall, but more science and better use of space launch infrastructure.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

stranger_to_himself (1132241) | more than 6 years ago | (#21381737)

Seems to me that your chances of finding something interesting go up dramatically.

That depends very much on your belief about the distribution of the interestingness, and how much ground you expect each rover to be able to cover.

If you think that the interesting things are few and scattered, then I agree with you. But there is no real reason to think this, except possibly for the lack of interesting things found so far. A more reasonable hypothesis is that the whole place is interesting, especially if you have a particular location in mind, in which case a detailed look at one area with one rover would be more effective than repeating a more superficial look many times.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#21382893)

Even if true, a detailed look at 30 places is going to be better than a detailed look at a couple of places.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 6 years ago | (#21383375)

Except the choice is a detailed look at a few places and a un-detailed look at 10 places (I expect 60%+ of those rovers to fail before doing anything useful).

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#21384865)

Failure rate is the same or worse for a few as for a lot. If you're seeing 60% failure rate in 30 probes, you'll probably see at least that rate in 2 probes. It still means you expect to see no more than a fifteenth as much data.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 6 years ago | (#21385011)

No it's not because the probes are NOT identical. That is unless you mean to compare 30 probes at $1 billion each versus 2 probes at $1 billion each. In any sane reality you are comparing 30 probes worth $75 million each versus 2 probes worth $1 billion each. This disparity in per-probe funding filters down to the cost of continual support from earth not just in initial build/launch cost. Furthermore each of those 30 probes has to be much smaller than if only 2 probes were used (or launch costs grow too high).

The question is in other words between sending 30 relatively simple/small probes or two large/complex probes. The later will be able to have much higher quality control (on build if not design) and more space for redundancy. Higher quality components can also be used as there is money available for them. Likewise each of those two probes will be able to have a much larger number of support personnel on earth capable of giving them continuous individual attention.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#21387053)

Your assumptions are mistaken. There are big economies of scale in probe construction and deployment. First, development cost is fixed no matter how many probes are made with the design. Second, the cost of building 30 probes is going to be cheaper per unit than the cost of building 2 probes. Launch costs can be considerably reduced by launching all thirty over a few years and spread over several launchers. Finally, operation costs for managing 30 probes would only be a modest bit more than the cost of managing 2 probes.

Let's look at an example I already worked out [slashdot.org] for launching 100 Mars rovers instead of 2. Same quality and instruments. The first Mars Rover was a bit over $500 million including launch and operation costs. The second was under $300 including it all. Assuming the other 98 cost as much as the second, you'd be looking at almost $30 billion for 100 rovers. I then look at how much 100 rovers would cost given some guesses ("rules of thumb") that I use to estimate economies of scale. End result is that conservatively, launch and construction costs can at least be halved per probe and operation costs are a fifth the cost per probe. That yields per probe costs of around $140 million including construction, launch, and operations.

In summary, these are crude estimates (for a large number of probes), but far better than multiplying the cost of one probe including development costs by 100.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 6 years ago | (#21387241)

There are big economies of scale in probe construction and deployment.
Not really, most of the construction and deployment needs very specialized parts and 30 is nowhere near large scale production. For most things 30 costs almost as much to make per unit as 1. The savings come from being able to spread the R&D costs over 30 units (you can use the exact same process to make 1 or 30 in many cases) NOT from being able to make each one for cheaply.

Second, the cost of building 30 probes is going to be cheaper per unit than the cost of building 2 probes.
Depends, if you need to train new people due to the effort required it may not be cheaper. There is a non-trivial cost to increasing the rate of production of something this complex.

Launch costs can be considerably reduced by launching all thirty over a few years and spread over several launchers.
There is a small window during which you can send things to Mars in a cost effective manner. Also you gain little from multiple launches as rockets don't scale with smaller size, actually they may get less cost efficient with smaller size (after a point).

Finally, operation costs for managing 30 probes would only be a modest bit more than the cost of managing 2 probes.
How in bloody hell do 15 times more personel cost the same amount? Rovers are very much manual things to control and everything needs to be planned in insane detail. There is a reason they move slower than snails. Any problems require teams of experts to solve and fixes need to be carefully planned. A single mistake can permanently kill a rover. Also you'd need more bandwidth so you need to send more communication sats and ground side receivers/transmitters.

End result is that conservatively, launch and construction costs can at least be halved per probe and operation costs are a fifth the cost per probe.
Launch costs are fixed. Actually due to lack of infrastructure for building and sending up so many rockets they would go UP with that many probes not down (as the facilities would be worthless afterwards and likely just left to rust). Construction costs would go down but since there is a lot of quality control and specialized parts I doubt they'd go down that much (especially if you need to train people to do so and they're not as good as their predecessors).

That yields per probe costs of around $140 million including construction, launch, and operations.
Pointless number, NASA has a small fixed budget. They can spend only a couple billion per mission so if you want 100 of them they need to be a simpler design than currently exists. Even 100 modern probes will provide little compared to 1 probe in 10 years. A single $14 billion probe would likewise be able to have so many instruments it would provide orders of magnitude more useful data than 100 probes.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#21387823)

Your bit about launch windows is important. A huge number of launches over short periods of time every couple of years isn't conducive to low launch costs. OTOH, there are other trajectories to Mars. For example, there's a month long window to Venus every year or so. A gravity assist from that gives a trajectory with similar delta v and travel times to Mars. Or just leave the probe in a useful orbit till the window comes. Means more delta v and high launch costs overall in any case. But given the number of probes, that's a feasible and affordable problem.

OTOH, claiming that you don't see economies of scale from 30 probes? Nonsense. That works for similar equipment like satellites, scientific instruments, and similar devices. What makes probes special?

Again, here's why you will see economies of scale at every step. First, development occurs once. Second, in construction, you will need one time infrastructure to build the probe design. That cost gets split among all the probes built. The knowledge from building previous probes will streamline the next effort. It is absurd to think that you can learn everything there is to know from building two probes. My take is substantial speedups still wait to be discovered. Also, when making 30 probes, you can keep from duplicating mistakes on the older probes and refine testing techniques. These means better probes, build and tested faster.

Launch costs are pretty straightforward. There are huge fixed costs and other costs like failure rate and insurance are heavily dependent on launch rate. The more you launch, the better you understand and can ward against the failure modes of the launch vehicle and the smaller risk and uncertainty that your insurer has in your launches.

Finally, operation costs are much lower because you can afford to automate much of the planning and control for the mission. Malfunctions and errors take less time to handle because you will see most of them before and the troubleshooting team will be very efficient. For a Mars rover probe, a lot of the problems like figuring out whether a patch of dust is too deep to cross or how to drive with a stuck wheel, would be rapidly dealt with simply because the problem was seen many times before. Orders to rovers can be staggered and a team can handle many rovers at once.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

RockDoctor (15477) | more than 6 years ago | (#21421671)

Even if true, a detailed look at 30 places is going to be better than a detailed look at a couple of places.

That depends a lot on how carefully you select the thirty places that you're going to look at. Landing at thirty similar sites is likely to yield LESS data than landing at two highly diverse sites.
I attended a conference last week which was (in part) about planning and selecting sites for oil exploration in the South Atlantic. Such explorations are highly expensive just like your Mars Rovers, so you don't go around with a scatter-gun approach. You put a lot of effort into site selection to get as much information as possible for your buck.
BTW : yes, the Elephant (seal) in the room did get mentioned. Several times. Just because we can't drill in Antarctica yet doesn't mean that we can't think about where we would drill if we could.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

ceroklis (1083863) | more than 6 years ago | (#21382053)

Better yet would be a faster rover, which could cover a much bigger area. I don't understand why MSL will travel at an average of 30 meters per hour while the winner of the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge traveled at an average of 30 kilometers per hour. I understand sojourner was slow because it had to be driven from the ground, but it seems autonomous driving technology could do much better than that.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (3, Insightful)

name_already_taken (540581) | more than 6 years ago | (#21382363)

I don't understand why MSL will travel at an average of 30 meters per hour while the winner of the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge traveled at an average of 30 kilometers per hour.

There are no gas stations on Mars.

DARPA Grand Challenge vehicles were based mostly on normal motor vehicles with internal combustion engines and readily available fuels.

The Mars rovers are solar powered. The sunlight isn't very strong on Mars and the rover can't carry an unlimited amount of solar panels, therefore the speed of the rover is limited by the available solar energy it can store up in its batteries.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21382991)

[why so slow?] The Mars rovers are solar powered.

The next one will be at least partly plutonium-powered. But the biggest reason for sluggish movement is because, first, the limited bandwidth between Earth and Mars; and second, scientists like to study the surveys taken first before/if they pick a spot to investigate close-up. It takes at least a few hours to do this, especially since communication takes between about 10 and 30 minutes to get to Mars or back (depending on orbit positions).

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (correction) (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21383191)

The next one will be at least partly plutonium-powered

Correction. The next *US* rover will be. (I don't know what power system the EU one is yet.)
   

Communications lag is irrelevant (1)

tlambert (566799) | more than 6 years ago | (#21383697)

Communications lag is irrelevant.

"scientists like to study the surveys taken first before/if they pick a spot to investigate close-up. It takes at least a few hours to do this"

Read Isaac Asimov; in one of his stories, a very remote spacecraft gets into trouble and they are wondering what to tell the astronauts to try, since the communications lag means that they won't get a chance to get an answer for more than two attempts. The mission control director's mother suggests that they gossip: just keep talking at both ends about things to try and results from trying them, until the problem is resolved.

Any scientist who let the rover sit idle after sending orders for investigating something, rather than taking that time to pick the next target and send it to the rover so that when it's done with its previous target, it immediately goes on to the next one, is an idiot, didn't read science fiction as a kid, doesn't understand sliding window protocols, or all three.

-- Terry

Re:Communications lag is irrelevant (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21384807)

Your reply is not very clear. Could you elaborate? I suppose the rover could be programmed to analyze whats around it regardless of whether it was told to or not, but that is *untried* tech on Mars. It could get itself into trouble.

Re:Communications lag is irrelevant (1)

tlambert (566799) | more than 6 years ago | (#21386339)

This is more about scientists looking at their maps and sending instructions before the 20-40 minute round trip lag between the time the rover says "bing! I am done with the last task!" and the time the scientists hear the "bing!" and start plotting the next target.

You plot the next target and send it 10-20 minutes before the rover can possibly get done with its last target, and there is no lag: the rover just immdiately goes after the new target.

-- Terry

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21386297)

the limited bandwidth between Earth and Mars

Interesting point, but I think the word you're looking for is "latency", not "bandwith".

In other words I could send you a cargo filled with thousands of containers, each filled with DVDs that would have to travel the seas for weeks. Latency would be horrible, but, man, you ain't beating that bandwith ;)

I could also send you a message using morse code, accross a thousands miles long telegraph line... Latency would be fine but bandwith would s*ck big times.

bandwith is not latency.

Additionally... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21383969)

...the MER's cost several hundred million each, you only get one shot at screwing up by driving carelessly, they aren't fully autonomous, there's little incentive to hurry, and they needed confidence of scientific return rather than a technology demonstrator. The DARPA grand challenge vehicles cost at most 0.1% of that, there was an incentive to be fast, they were required to operate autonomously, the point of the project was experimental technology demonstration with high risks, and if you screwed up you could always recover your gear and use it for other purposes.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 6 years ago | (#21389817)

There are no gas stations on Mars.

That is not even close to the real issue. The real problem is that there are no rover engineers on Mars. We could make the rovers bigger (more spread out mostly) and put bigger solar panels on them, increasing the solar panel area to mass ratio. But that would be more expensive to get there and it still wouldn't solve the problem that if you get stuck, the only way to get unstuck is to get another rover over there and bump you out - which sounds pretty expensive, doesn't it?

Personally I think the answer is to build more rovers rather than larger ones, make them treaded, and put a thin film solar panel on each side. The new-generation thin film stuff might even be suitable for the purpose. That way even if you flip them over you can still move them. And if you lose one in a dust pond, the mission isn't over. The treads are something of a liability in energy consumption, but it's not too bad while moving in straight lines (and can even be better in some situations) and if you make long enough turns, skid-steering isn't all that horrible anyway. Then the rovers could be more autonomous.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

Rakishi (759894) | more than 6 years ago | (#21383465)

The DARPA vehicles also had extensively testing in the same environment, had to run for one day and still failed quite often. It also had a very large powerful engine and probably more kg of autonomous driving equipment than the mass of a whole mars rover.

Also Mars is NOT Earth, it is not a pleasant environment. The trip there is even less pleasant. Normal electronics would likely arrive dead. Normal machinery would die quickly on Mars. Hell, machinery dies quickly on Earth if it weren't for constant maintenance.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (0, Flamebait)

ncohafmuta (577957) | more than 6 years ago | (#21382275)

Aren't we doing this already? The rover thing. Did I just enter a time warp?
Personally, i could care less about these rovers. It's a planet with red dirt. And, oh yeah, more red dirt. An ancient sea? big whoop. find a sea that's still there and maybe you'll have something. Find some aliens (which no doubt have to be hiding pretty darn well) because, well, again, all i've seen is dirt, and maybe you'll have something.
Odds are though, it's a waste of money.
Is there life out there, well, statistics suggest that with the number of stars and planets out there, one is bound to be in a proximity to a sun to support life. Wanna do something worthwile, how about perfectly super-fast space travel or super-telescopes. Mars is small potatoes and old news.

P.S. Hundreds of millions for 'coolness'? Please..how about we build a few kick ass schools and hospitals with that money.

-Tony

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 6 years ago | (#21382759)

Why can't NASA work on a mission which will deposit 10's or 100's of rovers ?

Launch costs. Granted, having a massive demand for launches like that might be able to induce economies of scale in the current launch industry.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21382931)

Why does NASA have a fixation on sending single units to Mars ?Why can't NASA work on a mission which will deposit 10's or 100's of rovers ?

I agree. They should survey Mars first before sending One Big rover. There are so many interesting and puzzling areas found from orbit. They should survey those areas with micro-rovers first. Otherwise, the One Big Rover may land in bland-ville.
       

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

khallow (566160) | more than 6 years ago | (#21383043)

I don't think we're ready to build hundreds of a single probe design. There's too much innovation between designs and we don't have the infrastructure to support that number of probes. But I see no problems either with making multiple copies of otherwise one-off designs or creating a lineage of probe designs (something like the Soyuz launch vehicles) with high reuse between subsequent designs and the gradual insertion of improvements.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#21383383)

Why can't NASA work on a mission which will deposit 10's or 100's of rovers ?

Because any rover cheap enough to send in those numbers will a) be too small to have any useful scientific payload and b) be unlikely to survive long enough on the surface to use the science package it doesn't have anyhow.
 
A less obvious problem is that we don't have the communications bandwidth (either in orbit around Mars or earthbound as part of the DSN).
 
 

With modularized components built in (relatively) large quantities the marginal cost of sending 30 rovers to Mars should be minimal.

If you are sending around 30 rovers - you aren't building the modularized parts in any significant quantity. Another issue is that economies of scale don't actually kick in for specialized equipment like this in the same manner as it does for consumer grade stuff. Each rover will take thousands of man-hours of testing and verification - regardless of whether you build 30 or 300... These costs dwarf the minor savings in actual parts aquisition.
 
 

However imagine the coolness factor of 20 or 30 sojourners running around the surface of mars. You could split modularized science experiments up among them, having a basic structure and each having a set of modular science experiment units.

That actually drives costs up... as each individual configuation needs to be designed, verified, and tested.

Re:why not lots of rovers ? (2, Funny)

fotoguzzi (230256) | more than 6 years ago | (#21383493)

Do you mean like a beowulf cluster of rovers?

Johnny Five (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21380977)

Is that you?

*EU* mars rovers? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21381543)

I may be nit-picking- but the ESA and the EU are actually rather distinct entities. The EU has no space agency.
Some ESA member states, such as Switzerland, are not EU members, and they usually become rather touchy if ESA and EU get too close for comfort.

EU institutions are all switching to .EU addresses. The ESA however will remain under .int in the foreseeable future (it has a redirect from esa.eu to esa.int though).

And the winner is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21381653)

The pacific ocean!

Drop it here (1)

Ticklemonster (736987) | more than 6 years ago | (#21382343)

I say that to all the girls, by the way.

Anyway, http://mmmgroup.altervista.org/e-trees.html [altervista.org] I have yet to find out if this is a hoax or not. If it's not, why not drop a probe in the bush area (Yeah, keep smilin') depicted and see what pops up? (okay, that did it, I'm outta here) (doh!)

Interesting .... (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 6 years ago | (#21382623)

The list includes two sites at Meridiani Planum, the flat expanse near Mars' equator where Nasa's Opportunity found possible evidence for an ancient sea

This is interesting to me in two ways.

Since the EU rovers would likely have a different science package, they'd be able to do more research into what the NASA rovers have already done. That's cool.

But, and this is the part I find the coolest ... if they did that, I'm fairly sure that would be the first chance to have two separate probes actually end up in the same spot at the same time. Assuming the little guy is still running by the time the EU lands their rover, could be have the first international, interplanetary meeting in history?

For some reason, the idea of having two probes sent years apart to the same planet end up in the same location is actually a very cool sounding thing. Having them photograph one another would be sorta mind boggling. :-P

Granted, it may not be as good from a purely science choice -- but, I guess the geek factor of achieving that is kind of impressive. We've had very little luck getting things even to Mars .. let alone in the same spot on the planet.

Anyway, it's probably not nearly as cool to everyone else. :-P

Cheers

Re:Interesting .... (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 6 years ago | (#21388561)

I'm fairly sure that would be the first chance to have two separate probes actually end up in the same spot at the same time

Well Pete Conrad landed Apollo 12 a couple of hundred metres from Surveyor 3. I don't think having one of your vehicles manned should exclude you from that record.

They brought some bits of the surveyor back too.

Re:Interesting .... (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 6 years ago | (#21391967)

Well Pete Conrad landed Apollo 12 a couple of hundred metres from Surveyor 3. I don't think having one of your vehicles manned should exclude you from that record.

They brought some bits of the surveyor back too.

Ah, thanks for the correction. I don't think I'd recalled/known that one.

Cheers

Hey, Mr. Postman (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21383225)

Did it dawn on anybody else that the rover shown in the BBC article looks like a mailbox? It may end up breaking down, and the cause will be that Martains stuffed it full of envelopes.
             

FrisT Spsot (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21383543)

1. Tbherefore there [amazingkreskin.com]

Bad headline (1)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | more than 6 years ago | (#21383949)

The EU [google.com] is not the ESA [google.com] .
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