Today’s Tidbits: September 25, 2017

Today’s Tidbits: September 25, 2017

Here are our tidbits for today, September 25, 2017.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live-tweeting of events.

Watzin to MEPAG:  No 2022 Orbiter, No Decision on Helicopter

NASA Mars Exploration Program Director Jim Watzin. Photo Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Jim Watzin, NASA’s Mars Exploration Program Director, briefed the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) today on NASA’s planning for future robotic exploration of the planet.  The Mars 2020 rover is the only NASA Mars probe in development right now.

Mars scientists have been hoping to get a go-ahead for a new Mars orbiter for launch in 2022 that, at a minimum, would provide new communications relay capabilities. Rovers on the surface communicate back to Earth through orbiters outfitted with relay equipment.  The newest ones are NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (2005), MAVEN (2013), and ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (2016).  NASA has two operating rovers, Opportunity and Curiosity, on the surface now. They will be joined by InSight in 2018 and Mars 2020 two years later.  Without functioning relay orbiters, NASA won’t be able to talk to them.

Watzin said, however, that NASA concluded that the likelihood of all of the relay orbiters failing is so low that no more investments are needed for that purpose.  NASA wants to focus whatever resources it has on returning a sample of Mars to Earth, the dream of many Mars scientists that remains elusive because of its expense.

NASA slide depicting current and planned robotic Mars missions. Presentation by NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen to National Academies committee on mid-term review of planetary science decadal survey, August 28, 2017.

Except for technology development and studies associated with that goal, the future of NASA’s
Mars program is pretty well summed up in this slide — nothing beyond Mars 2020 and NASA’s contributions to the ESA/Russia ExoMars rover.

This slide and the others Watzin used today were first presented in August by NASA science head Thomas Zurbuchen to a National Academies committee that is assessing how well NASA is implementing the 2011 “Vision and Voyages” Decadal Survey. The full set of slides is posted on that committee’s website: [].

Watzin also may have dashed the hopes of those excited about the possibility of adding a tiny helicopter to Mars 2020.

Watzin acknowledged the advantages of aerial reconnaissance before deciding routes for rovers, but stressed that it is just a technology maturation program — “there has been no decision to fly it.”

Australia to Establish Space Agency

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Photo credit: the Prime Minister’s website []
Australia is hosting the 2017 International Astronautical Congress this week in Adelaide.  As a lead-up to the conference the Australian government announced that it will establish an Australian space agency.

Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, created a “reference group” in July to assess the need for an agency.  Chaired by Megan Clark, former director of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), it concluded such an agency is necessary.  Among other things, CSIRO manages Australia’s radio astronomy and spacecraft tracking facilities.

Acting Australian Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, said in a statement that “a national space agency will ensure we have a strategic long-term plan that supports the development and application of space technologies and grows our domestic space industry.”

The reference group will develop a charter for the agency by the end of March 2018.  More information at: []

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.