Report: Low-Cost Science Mission Concepts for Mars Exploration (NASA 2022)


The document is the final report of NASA’s Low-Cost Science Mission Concepts for Mars Exploration Workshop, held on March 29-31, 2022, in Pasadena, California. The workshop aimed to explore new approaches to Mars exploration using low-cost missions, leveraging emerging small-spacecraft capabilities and innovative mission concepts to achieve compelling scientific discoveries at Mars at unprecedented low costs.

The workshop identified several key areas for low-cost Mars missions, including science achievable by low-cost missions, the challenges of transportation and telecommunications, technology needs, the role of commercial-academic-international partnerships, risk considerations, complementary studies and findings, and viable paths forward.

Some of the most straightforward low-cost mission concepts included ongoing studies of space weather, meteorological observations, high-resolution infrared imaging, precision gravity measurements, wind measurements, and subsurface radar sounding. For surface access, low-cost approaches such as high-g “rough” landers and lower-g “soft” landing approaches were discussed.

To address the challenges of transportation and telecommunications, the workshop participants proposed various solutions, such as rideshare launch opportunities, new small-launch-vehicle options, high-∆V kick stages for transfer from GTO to Mars, aerobraking and aerocapture technologies, space tug to deliver small spacecraft to Mars destination orbits/trajectories, and next-gen Mars relay orbiters supporting both landers and orbiters.

The workshop concluded that low-cost missions in the $100M–$300M range could return compelling science results addressing fundamental Mars science questions and were a critical next step for Mars exploration.

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