Monday, March 7, 2011

Decadal Survey is Available

The Survey's report is available at with an overview page at that also has a download link should the first link not work.  You can also watch the video of Dr. Steve Squyres' presentation of the report at

The leaked Survey summary reported on by Space News turned out to accurately reflect the priorities and challenge for NASA's planetary program.  Context on NASA's view of its situation can be found at

I will have more later in the week as I have time to think through the report (423 pages!) and listen to other reactions.  Here, I'll give the very brief summary of priorities for flight missions given by the Survey:

Overall priorities (I believe these reflect the priorities expressed in Squyres' presentation; they are not listed in priority report in the small part of the report I've been able to examine):

  1. Discovery program funded at the current level adjusted for inflation; 
  2. Mars Trace Gas Orbiter conducted jointly with ESA; 
  3. New Frontiers Missions 4 and 5; (NF mission 3 is currently in selection)
  4. Flagship mission chosen from list below  

Based on the the previous, much more generous FY11 budget projections, the committee recommended flying two Flagship missions, either MAX-C or JEO and a Uranus orbiter and probe mission.  During the presentation, Dr. Squyres said that in a reduced budget environment, one Flagship mission would be selected in the following priority order; higher priority missions would be passed over if conditions noted not met:

  1. Mars Astrobiology Explorer-Cacher (MAX-C), at $2.5B cost (vs. $3.5B estimate) and prepares for sample return and continues partnership with ESA 
  2. Jupiter Europa Orbiter (JEO), at significantly lower cost than $4.7B estimate 
  3. Uranus Orbiter and Probe, $2.7 billion 
  4. Venus Climate Mission, $2.4 billion
  5. Enceladus Orbiter, $1.9 billion

The Survey recommends that the New Frontiers 4 mission be selected from the following missions:

  • Comet Surface Sample Return,
  • Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin Sample Return*,
  • Saturn Probe,
  • Trojan Tour and Rendezvous, and
  • Venus In Situ Explorer*
*may previously be selected for New Frontiers 3

For the New Frontiers 5 mission, these two missions would be added to the list:
  • Io Observer,
  • Lunar Geophysical Network.

Editorial Note: Based on my quick look, I am amazed by the depth of the report and the amount of obvious thought that has been put into it.  While I personally would have favored changes here and there, this is a set of recommendations that I can and do support.  Given the much higher cost estimates for the MAX-C and Jupiter Europa Orbiter missions and the recent much lower projected budgets, I suspect that some aspects of this report may be revisted.  The Survey explicitly calls for attempting to descope MAX-C and JEO.


  1. No mention of OSIRIS-REx as one of the recommended NFs?

  2. That list of NFs leads me to believe that they may have been informally informed about the NF-3 winner. We should know soon.


    G Clark

  3. No mention of an asteroid sample return in the list of future New Frontiers missions.

    The full report mentions that this goal is dropped but doesn't explain why except to mention that the changes were made to reflect selection criteria and changes in scientific knowledge and programmatic realities.

    I would not conclude that OSIRIS-REx has been selected for New Frontiers 3. The report went to reviewers early last Fall. I doubt that any favorite was known then, and I know that some of the selection steps still need to be carried out. Trying to read tea leaves could also lead to the conclusion that a near Earth asteroid mission is no longer considered either technically or scientifically practical. I don't believe that would be true, either.

    The New Frontiers list would have had three sample return missions on it if the asteroid sample return had been retained. My guess is that this reflects an attempt to maintain balance in the program and/or the recognition that Japan has approved an asteroid sample return that may fulfill the requirements. In addition, the report states that NEO sample returns may be able to fit within Discovery budgets now that launch vehicles are no longer counted against the PI's budget. When OSIRIS-REx's precursor was last proposed as a Discovery mission, launch vehicles were still counted against the PI's budget.

  4. Thanks for all of the Decadal Updates. They are very helpful.
    Now that the Survey's results are known, we can now discuss their findings. I would like to focus on the Jupiter Europa Orbiter, JEO. This topic was covered in a white paper to the Survey submitted by David Smith. It is titled, "A Budget Phasing Approach to Europa Jupiter System Mission Science."
    In his paper, Smith notes several factors that would lead to an extremely long delay in the Flagship mission approach. First, the sophistication and technical challenges of the Flagship have already caused the JEO, as planned, to enter Europa orbit no earlier than 2028! Second, the paper notes that it is possible that NASA budget projections will not even support that date of Europa Orbit Insertion.
    We have seen how the Nation's budget situation has dramatically become more severe since that white paper was submitted. As Survey report notes, there is little room, financially for the JEO as now envisioned. Smith's series of small Europa Orbiters is the only way to go if we are to see ANY advance in Europa science in the next 20 years.

  5. A few more thoughts on the Decadal Survey report.
    First, the projected cost of $4.7 Billion for JEO is simply astounding! Can anyone really believe, in this Age of Austerity, that Congress would approve such a Battlestar Galactica mission? The age of Mega-Missions, such as Cassini, is over. The Survey itself notes that JEO should be pursued only if it can be descoped, with a reduced cost.
    This is where David Smith's series of smaller, cheaper Europa Orbiters would be ideal. They could build on the heritage of the Juno Jupiter Orbiter. There is a limited science focus in the Juno mission. It has a simple design. It is solar-powered. The small, elegant Europa Orbiters could be either solar-powered or RTG-powered. If Plutonium is used, then one of these elegant Europa Orbiters would use a smaller amount than the Flagship mission.
    Each small Europa Orbiter would cost a bit more than Juno since they would need to be 3-axis stabilized as opposed to Juno's spinner design. However, the price for each elegant Europa Orbiter would probably put it in the New Horizons cost category, since that ceiling would be raised over the current one, if the Survey's suggestion of not including lunch costs is followed by NASA.
    Steve Squyres' presentation recommends that NASA immediately begin an effort to find major cost reductions in the JEO mission. I submit that pursuing a line of smaller, cheaper, faster Europa Orbiters is the ONLY way for this to happen. So, we can wait around, for an indeterminate length of time, for a fantasy JEO mission that accomplishes ALL Europa science in one fell swoop, or we can go about the business of exploring Europa in an incremental fashion with a series of small orbiters that ACTUALLY get funded, built and launched.
    As for the MAX-C Mars rover mission, I was surprised to learn that the 2018 mission's Skycrane EDL would need substantial modification from the MSL design. Is it just me, or wasn't the use of a clone of the MSL Skycrane EDL a sales pitch for the 2018 mission? It does appear that if the 2018 mission is to be held to $2.5 Billion, then only one rover can be carried on a Skycrane, with only minimal modification from the MSL design. I imagine that this would be the MAX-C rover. This will probably be of concern to ESA. However, perhaps their ExoMars rover could be launched in 2020, landing at a different site than MAX-C, using another clone of the MSL Skycrane EDL. This would delay Mars Sample Return a bit, but it would have the advantage of providing another cache of samples for MSR. Also, it would give NASA more time to develop technology needed for MSR, such as the Mars Ascent Vehicle.

  6. The committee reported that the cost for the JEO mission is "so high that both a decrease in mission scope and an increase in NASA's planetary science budget are necessary to make it affordable."

    But... planetary science budget is on a downward slope for the next five years!

    Conclusion: JEO is dead!