REALSPACE: Yet Another R/C Car on Mars…

Republibot 3.0
Republibot 3.0's picture

NASA and ESA - the European Space Agency - have chalked out a tentative deal for a joint mission to Mars. Don’t get too excited - there’s no people going, just another damned R/C car with a webcam on it - but at least they’re doing something.

Kind of.

The mission is sort of ‘Been There, Done That’ - ESA wants to send an R/C rover/lander dealie to Mars to do more of what we’ve been doing since the mid-1990s, and there’ll also be a biological-sensing component, which of course we did with the Viking probes back in the 1970s. It’s not really exciting. You can find the details here, if you’re interested in such things. http://www.spacenews.com/civil/dordain-wins-backing-for-joint-mars-progr... Just the same, I find the prospect kind of enchanting in a backhanded way.

In essence the project is expected to cost One Billion Euros, but their funding is lacking, so they’ve suggested an ad-hoc partnership with NASA to make up the shortfall, and also to borrow some expertise. It’s a lot like the deal Eurosec made with NASA in “Journey to the Far Side of the Sun” ( http://www.republibot.com/content/movie-review-%E2%80%9Cjourney-far-side... ) only, there’s no people going, of course, and it’s not a brave, exciting new mission, but one that’s kind of been done to death. Similar if we allow for the total lack of aspirations in our day.

Still and all, I’ve always liked the ESA. They’re the only trans-national space agency that’s ever had any legs - several others have tried to start up, but have always fallen apart - and they’ve had a long and distinguished history in making good stuff out of bailing wire and spit. The Huygens probe to Titan was theirs http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huygens_probe and even though they needed to flag us down for a ride, it was still an impressive piece of engineering and an impressive feat of discovery, however briefly it lasted. Granted, they don’t always pick a winner - Hermes was a debacle from day one http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermes_(shuttle) (Though we can blame that on the French), but, hey, it’s not like we made a GOOD decision by sticking by our piece-of-crap space shuttle for nearly 30 years, now did we? Everyone can have an off decade.

Anyone interested in details of the Exomars expedition can check here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exomars though be cautioned, the information is changing rapidly.

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Make it look good but DO NOT do anything real

neorandomizer's picture

Like most government agencies in Europe the ESA is an employment program pretending to be a space exploration program. NASA is your old fashioned pork barrel spending to keep those campaign dollars coming in from the aerospace companies. Together they maybe able to find that microbe that rode in on one of the earlier Landers and say hey we found something.

If they where serous they would be doing an orbiter/Hi res mapping mission then a Lander as a prelude to a manned landing like Ranger and Surveyor were for Apollo. If they were serous we would be developing a real heavy lift launch system and a real long duration manned spacecraft not a souped-up Apollo capsule and a booster that is a waste of money. It would be cheaper to just man rate a heavy lift Delta or Atlas.

These smart Chinese-American boys are showing how it's done

10000li's picture

Near space on $150:

http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/09/the-150-space-camera-mit-students...

I wonder if anyone has done a white paper on how to get into orbit without burning fuel - balloons up to maximum height, {some magic in between} and solar sails the rest of the way.

What is the cheapest way anyone has come up with to deliver a payload of, say, 1,000 pounds to an orbit?

I don't know.

Republibot 3.0's picture

@ 10000li: To be honest, I don't know. Accounting in Space Programs has always been something of a black art. NASA has spent 30 years insisting that the shuttle only costs half as much as a Saturn V to operate, when in fact it costs six times more, so it's very hard to get solid numbers. It's all doublethink and doublespeak down there.

Part of the problem is that given the way governments run these programs, few rockets ever reach mass-produced status, which is where their costs would really pay off. We only built 20 Saturn Vs, we only launched 17, and the program cost about 8 or 9 billion, including launch costs, and of course massive R&D so the actual cost-per-launch was about a half a billion, IIRC. But they could put about 90 tons in orbit, which comes out to about 5.5 million/ton or about $2800/lb.

If, however, the Saturn Vs had been the primary launch vehicle of the 70s, as was assumed when developing them, if we'd built and launched a hundred of them over the next dozen years, then you can amortize the R&D costs down to almost nothing, and (ignoring inflation), the cost per pound drops massively.

It's curious, isn't it? Allegedly we're a capitalist country, and yet congress have never been able to wrap its brain around the benefits of mass production? Granted, it's a fairly newfangled concept, only been around since before the French Revolution...

@ Neo: Yeah, it's all tease and no sex with NASA. Agreed. I'm not going to diss the ESA, however: They do a lot with the pittiful budget they've got.

The Artist Formerly Known As Republibot 3.0