Monday, August 1, 2011

Articles and a Blog

A couple of good articles were published today on the Juno and Mars Science Laboratory missions.

Aviation Week and Space Technology: NASA bets big rover on novel landing scheme

I also discovered a new blog that covers space exploration, including in-depth posts on planetary exploration.  I'm not sure how I missed this blog for so long; perhaps because it's in Spanish and my search terms didn't translate well.  (Google translate seems to do a pretty good job at providing readable English text.)  I've added this blog to my blog list, and you can visit it at


  1. How to go about getting a cost estimate for an Enceladus ocean core sample analysis mission? I'm thinking $225B for the 1st attempt, $215B a few years later, and success with $200B the fourth attempt. Using near term technologies with the exception of superior in situ sample analysis. I'd guess an Iceland-like site where the tiger stripes and the ice interact would be optimal for finding evidence of life. Mars is good if sub surface water can be found. The other Jovian and Saturn satellites might not have easily (<$trillion) accessible water.
    The idea would be to land. Melt through the water. Descent/propel to the ocean floor. Land again. Drill. Collect samples. Analyze them in or on the ocean floor.
    Quite a few textbooks are waiting to be written...but it would be nice if a rough price existed, and NASA has not considered ocean environments much.

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  3. A worthless estimate for finding simple life: $5T. It'd be profound enough to be worth a yr of R+D. R+D is undervalued and might offer a social return of 7% of GDP vs 2.5% outlay. At $70T/yr economy: $4.9T. I have a planetary science life portfolio to offer after JPL advised physics and chemistry are 4x each more important than biology experiments for Enceladus.
    Callisto looks undervalued having ocean-rock layer. Ganymede no ocean-rock and Europa ocean-rock with geothermal vents. Need to confirm this and prepare a future Europa plume flythrough if possible (is $1.7B for Enc) or lander with 2-10(?)m drill (Enc is +$0.9B for rover maybe +0.9(?)B for custom drill?). As with Enceladus, an easy sample compared to melting through to ocean. CEG at JEO $3.4B price is life bargain compared to $1.9B Uranus system and $4.4B Titan (even if subtracting $1B for free Enceladus Orbiter), though Titan offers a novel life incubator if water. Can't just melt through water ice to get to Titan's ocean like with Ganymede. So $3.4B CEG, $1.7B Enc O, $1.7B Europa plume sample or $3.5B lander/O, IDK if NEXT saves much time for an Enc $1.8B sample return. $6.8B-$10.4B low hanging fruit.
    3 successful melt missions to deploy ocean sensors might cost $221B. And 1.5 missions to melt, journey to ocean vents, sample core and analyze: $443B. 1/2.25 and 1/5 mission odds yet NASA defines all 25+% failure odds the same; I assessed sample returns at two ranks below NASA's 25% loss of mission odds worst case scenario, in case of Jovian wheat rust.
    R+Ding Ions, Halls, VASIMR enables quicker missions which is cheaper if expensive samples are the goal and if exo Solar Systems form the life competition. R+Ding a life appropriate sensor suite is key. Knowing tidal heating details, location of clays/petro at least near vents, sedimentation near vents, easiest route to melt to a global ocean, easiest route to melt and swim to vents. R+D subs, ocean core sample apparatus, radio ice relays, radioactive or otherwise melting apparatus. Everything can be cheaper and lighter, but especially the bulk hulls of sub, melter (narrower diamater and thinner ice is lighter), ocean core sampler and sensor suite; despite exposure to harsh elements, needs to be light tough composite.
    More importantly, need odds of life. Take a soft clay core near the Stripes or drill colder bedrock? Clay? How fine scaled can oil deposits be located with 2025-built Orbiter sensors? Even if Europa has no ocean. there might be clays under the glacier in an unsquished hollow that would make it more likely to evolve animals than Mars. Can we get good enough radar or infrared to map clays/oil like we can image Earth river/cavern deposits? How big a multiplier is a recycling ocean, vents, global vents; there are a sulfur oxidant and an H202 metabolism on Earth we know little about. Can in situ sample centrifuges be invented? We need to be able to compute rock/water/oil surface-areas-in-contact measurements, some other variables, and get odds of finding life. 1/100 justifies $50B. NASA is planning around $10B to get a Mars sample return yet is <$2B for an Enceladus sample return.