News from NASA: Jim Green & Andrew Thomas

Quick notes, often copied from PowerPoints. Attempts to write in full paragraphs not made.

Jim Green, Director of Planetary Science Division at NASA
State of the State of NASA Planetary Science Division (PSD)

18 months ago PSD had these problems:

  • The Reserarch and Analysis budget had been cut 15%. This below life support levels! With this level of cuts, professors began telling students not to go into Planetary Science.
  • Astrobiology had been cut 50%. This got people asking if Astrobiology can survive? NASA is the parent of the astrobiology field and considers astrobiology very valuable. The field has the important mission to determine if there is life in the solar system. Somehow, in one year it’s budget saw $30 disappear!
  • New Frontiers mission “Juno” was being considered for. Project was being delayed, with $300 million knocked from its budget in 3 consecutives years. The delays ended up increasing final project cost to over $1 Billion, when it had been promised to Congress as as a sub-billion dollar project. The Jun mission is now scheduled for 2011.
  • All Near Earth Object activities were moved into Earth Science Mission Directorate (ESMD). The NEO activities are a very small, but political football. Things are still being worked out , and these problems are leading to attrition of PSD scientists to ESMD.
  • There was basically no science planned to/from/on the Moon. The LSSO program was the only activity and it was a token at best.
  • There was no Discovery selection
  • There was no Outer Planets Flagship mission, and the outer solar system community was forced to survive within dwindling Research and Analysis budget
  • PSD was grossly understaffed with low morale.

“These are not our problems anymore! We do have challenges however. This is really a team effort and many thanks are due to Alan [Stern’s] effort – there has been a lot of work and support to make this happen.”
R&A today: Total planetary budget (from larger table)

  • Spent in 07: $141508
  • Planned to be spent in 08: $200581
  • Requested in 09: $219235

“This increase is a testament to all the people who have worked to bring PSD back.”
The Lunar had the largest increases (07: $3800, 08: $18,000, 09: $25000) Astrobio also had large increases, bringing it back up to $49Million projected in 09

Announcements – Discovery and Mars Scout Mission Capability Enhancements: Programs were solicited for small planetary missions that require ASRG power source – Two Stirling Engines with ~140 Watts each. These engins have better efficiencies hen current engines, and are better than some radioactive power sources. They need to be flight tested though, and NASA is using Discovery/Scout missions to get this space qualification. Each of these missions has a 6 month duration. Of 40 proposals, 9 were selected.

  • JPL to Venus, Arial Vehicle
  • LANL to Moon, Lander
  • Washington U to Moon, Rover
  • APL to Asteroid, Lander
  • JPL to Mars , lander
  • Proxemy Research to Outer Planets, Lander
  • U Arizona to Outer Planets, Lander
  • NASA Ames to Comet, Sample Return
  • U Maryland to Comet, Lander

Lunar Participating Researcher program had 55 proposals, 24 selected

  • Up to 4 years, $80k/yr
  • Participating Scientist will be considered part of the science team

Scientists asked to stand. One looked like a grad student age woman – way cool to see!
Lunar Advanced Science & Exploration Research – cofunded by ESMD – winners announced end of March. 160 proposals. Estimate will pick 50 proposals

Opening New Frontiers in Space: Choices for the Next New Frontiers AO guided by input from National Academy. Recommendations, state NASA Should
1) Emphasis science objectives,
2) Expand the list of candidate missions,
3) limit to the list of topics below unless compelling science

Topics NRC endorses:

  • Asteroid Rover/ Sample Returnn
  • Comet Surface Sample Return
  • Ganymede Observer *new*
  • Io Observer *new*
  • Jupiter Polar Orbiter with Probes
  • Kuiper Belt/Pluto
  • Lunar South Aitken Basin Sample Return
  • Mars Network Science *new*
  • Trojan/Centaur Reconnaissance *new*
  • Venus In-Situ Explorer

Stern will use financial realism and feasibility as primary criteria. Translation: you can’t do everything – be realistic. But there’s a twist – the idea of limiting to these topics, but sometimes allowing compelling science to trump guidelines. What does this mean? Consider Geysers on Enceladus – great new discoveries worth missions can lead to new opportunities that guidelines can’t anticipate.

New Frontier will be open to any Solar System target accept the Sun and Earth. Proposed missions must also be consistent with the unavailability of radioisotope power sources.
Although missions to any target can be proposed, priority will be given to the NRC report list
(Due dates: Draft July 2008, AO October 2008). The hope is to be able to use these newly developed sterling engines.

All mission of opportunity proposals pulled from this call and all future calls.

PI qualifications: “Stern is hard over on all PI qualifications.” Important to note that he has backed off on how high the bar is for new New Frontiers calls. The qualifications are on a PI Qualifications Matrix, and there is a web form to check your qualifications. If you don’t meet the qualifications, the proposal won’t even be read! Some loosening has occurred, but it’s still very strict

Perspective of why: “It really has to do with how we’ve been doing missions over the years. Big things assigned to centers, and we say “give us your best project manager – the one who is over qualified who could do it in his sleep – who can bring it in on-time on-budget in his sleep. … As time goes, when that guy screws up, we fire him and get a new one.” For a number of projects the project manager changed a number of times. Some were good in some stages but not all. “Stern is saying we need to have a modicum of standards in selecting PIs – experience matters.”

SALMON Solicitation Development <– this is where all new missions of opportunity will go. Current release date is Friday! Proposals will be due August 2008 and selections will be announced Feb 09 (nominally). Call for proposals should be released yearly. Very much like ROSES. Form has “boiler plate in front, appendices in back, and we can add to this with time.” Call is open to all divisions: Heliophysics, Astrophysics, etc, etc… This allows everyone to see how they can participate. This is a new approach.

What SALMON includes:

  • Traditional Misions of Opportunity for non-NASA launched space missions: instrument, tech, hardware, etc
  • US PI – Co-Investigator for non-hardware projects for a science or technology experiment to be built and flown by an agency other than NASA
  • New Science Missions using Existing Spacecraft – Investigations that propose a new scientific use of existing NASA spacecraft (ie. NExT, EPOXI …)
  • Small Complete Missions – Science invesrtufations that can be realied within the specified cost cap – includes all phases from access to space through data pub – gateway to PI qualification
  • Focused Opportunities – Investigations that address a specific, NASA-identified opportunity
  • This is great set of new opportunities that hope will be out on a regula bases to lead to more open and participatory space community

LRO and LCROSS launch later this year (October 2008): Data will flow into Planetary Data system and the system is getting updated to handle flux of data. PSD funds LRO extended missions.

GRAIL is a new mission – a gravity mission and a new discovery mission

Lunar Atmosphere & Dust Environment Explorer (LASER)- $80M ARC/GSFC new mission with 2 instruments (Dust Counter and Nuetral Mass Spectrometer) It is well grounded in NRC Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon. It will measure the atmosphere/exosphere before it is perturbed by human activity.

International Lunar Network: The ILN is designed to emplace 6-8 stations on the lunar surface – fixed and mobile. Each ILN station has a core set of instrument types (seismic, laser retro-reflector, heat flow, could also include additional instruments as desired by the sponsoring space agency. Could also include additional passive/active experiments. Two nodes supplied by NASA on 2013/2014 time scale. May have 2 more nodes in 2016/17 time frame. Nodes will first be placed on poles, and others elsewhere. NASA is studying option of a lunar communications relay orbiter to enable lunar far-side access for ILN nodes. Expect international participation for the other network nodes. “This opportunity offers the opportunity for very important partnerships that will be a model for partnerships to come.”

Moon Mineralogy Mapper also coming

The NASA Lunar Science Institute (

  • Objective: Help lead the agency’s research activities for future lunar science missions related to NASA’s exploration goals
  • Member teams (4-6) chosen form initial CAN
  • $1-2M per team per year
  • Modeleed after NASA Astrobiology Institute
  • Has science focus

Of the Moon: Investigations of the nature and history of the Moon.
On the Moon: science for human exploration.
From the Moon: the moon as an observational platform

Andrew Thomas – Astronaut Office, ESMD
Lunar Surface Archituecture: The tools and structure that will be used to allow human return to the moon.

Started in 2006 – starting point – Decided we need an Outpost
In 2007, considered implementation – Explored merits of 5 implementations: min-hub, large habitate, mobile habitat, 2 nuclear power cases. Recommended mid size habitat with early mobility, building to long range capability, and possible relocation of habitat units. Essential that you could have mobility. Without mobility, in a very short period they’ll learn everything about the area within walking distance of hab and they are no longer necessary. Vision of “Winnabago Mode” of surface exploration, allowing large ranging and large science returns.

Constellation Architecture Lunar (CxAT Lunar), 2007-08 discussion. Exploring three implementation: mid-size hab, early delivery of 2 pressurized, or 2 unpressurized rovers. Want to have early mobility. You have all these surface elements. Need to deliver them in the right order: A good architecture is one that uses the proper synergistic mix of surface elements.

(the images look like bugs, with solar panels on antanee – low g makes fascinating geometries possible!)

Mobility key to successful exploration. Trying prototypes. One has 6 axle, 12 wheel, full suspension system. Basic mode – chariot mode. Explore in suits. Can also be used to move habitation modules around, allowing pressured shell to eventually be added, giving us a pressurized capsul for possible future exploration.

Another concept looks rather like a port-a-potty on legs. It is a ring of 6 legs with wheels that can basically go up and down stairs or boulders – it can work like a fork lift to carry around a pressurized habitate (that’s thing both Rebecca an I think looks like a port-a-potty). The legs can actually also work like arms. A pair can work together to move stuff around. These can be used autonomously, driven by astronauts, or driven by folks on the Earth. Tools can also be mounted – pinchers, drills, etc. Here it is:

The Challenge: You can take all the things together and find creative approaches to building up surface infrastructures, but what is the rational basis to guide decisions? You need to be able to do this within proper boundaries of risk and cost. There is more then one solution. 1 role the science community can provide is their feedback on what ordering of priorities will help. NASA needs metrics to support science. The current metrics maximize: Crew surface time, delivered/returned science mass, exploration range. This doesn’t help us rank how each effects the power of the science coming out.

Considering landing sites using Goldstone Lunar Radar Topography to add determination. Poles often mentioned as sites for scientific and operational reasons. The shapley crater for instance, and Shackleton Rim Area. There are challenges – You have 4-5 kilometers of altitude change, and slopes are 30 degrees or more in many cases – how do you land on this? This is very Non-Apollo like terrain with significant altitude variations. (think rocky mountains but worse!)

But there is a really cool video – which causes powerpoint to crash – CntrlAlt End Process… Wheeee
“This is why we don’t want Bill Gates to take us to the Moon”

Here’s the video.

This is another cool video

Operationally, it is interesting because of the extended periods of daylight experienced on peaks. If you are relying on solar power, you’ll be limited – this is a big challenge. Because of this lighting, when you are flying in to land, you won’t have visual contact with the ground – you’ll have to onboard characteristizing abilities, and cargo craft will need to be fully automated.

It’s worth checking out the constellation mission webpages.

Three quotes – which do you think comes from Mad Magazine, and which comes from NASA?
The problem of landing on the lunar dark side is that the terrain is usually dark
Washout: high light angles do not allow reflected light to reach the eye
Although the Moon is 1/49th the size of the Earth, it is farther away.

One Comment

  1. Apple March 13, 2008 at 1:28 pm #

    You’ve got your wish coming in June regarding the iPhone calculator and astronomy software

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