Independent review: NASA’s Mars sample return mission is in big trouble – Behind The Black – Robert Zimmerman

An independent review of NASA’s Mars sample return mission (MSR) to pick up the core samples being collected by the rover Perseverance has concluded that the project has serious fundamental problems that will likely cause it to be years late and billions over-budget, assuming it ever flies at all.

You can read the report here [pdf]. After thirteen pages touting the wonders and importance of the mission to get those samples back to Earth, the report finally gets to its main point:

However, MSR was established with unrealistic budget and schedule expectations from the beginning. MSR was also organized under an unwieldy structure. As a result, there is currently no credible, congruent technical, nor properly margined schedule, cost, and technical baseline that can be accomplished with the likely available funding.

Technical issues, risks, and performance-to-date indicate a near zero probability of [the European Mars orbiter intended to bring the sample back to Earth] or [the Earth sample facility] or [the Mars ascent vehicle] meeting the 2027/2028 Launch Readiness Dates (LRDs). Potential LRDs exist in 2030, given adequate funding and timely resolution of issues.

• The projected overall budget for MSR in the FY24 President’s Budget Request is not adequate to accomplish the current program of record.

• A 2030 LRD for both [the sample return lander] and [the Mars orbiter] is estimated to require ~$8.0-9.6B, with funding in excess of $1B per year to be required for three or more years starting in 2025.

Based on this report, a mission launch in 2030 is only “potentially” possible, but only wild-eyed dreamers would believe that…..

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