Seven companies were selected by NASA for studies


WASHINGTON — NASA has selected seven companies to conduct studies of “out of the box” concepts for the agency’s Mars Sample Return (MSR) program that can deliver samples faster and cheaper than current plans.
NASA announced late June 7 it selected proposals from Aerojet Rocketdyne, Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Quantum Space, SpaceX and Whittinghill Aerospace for 90-day studies of alternative MSR concepts.
The request for mission study proposals highlighted the MAV as one element of particular interest to NASA for studies.
In addition to the seven industry studies, NASA is supporting similar MSR studies by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Applied Physics Laboratory and a group of NASA centers.
Those studies will have a similar scope and schedule as the industry studies, Connelly said.
She said at the Space Studies Board meeting that NASA was maintain the schedule for the studies laid out in April.
NASA will then review those studies to determine what changes, if any, to make to the MSR architecture.
“This is the opportunity to hear what industry has to tell us” about reducing the cost and schedule of MSR, said Jeff Gramling, director of the MSR program at NASA Headquarters, at the Space Studies Board meeting.


WASHINGTON — In order to deliver samples more quickly and affordably than its current plans, NASA’s Mars Sample Return (MSR) program has chosen seven companies to study “out of the box” concepts.

Late on June 7, NASA declared that it had chosen 90 days to study alternative MSR concepts based on proposals from Aerojet Rocketdyne, Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Quantum Space, SpaceX, and Whittinghill Aerospace. The maximum value of each award is $1.05 million.

After determining that the current strategy for returning samples would cost up to $11 billion and not be finished until as late as 2040, the agency issued a call for proposals for those studies in mid-April. An independent assessment that was finished in September of last year concluded that the MSR program was unlikely to meet the current cost and schedule targets. To that end, that assessment was made in response.

In a statement regarding the new studies, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stated, “Mars Sample Return will be one of the most complex missions NASA has undertaken, and it is critical that we carry out this mission more quickly, with less risk, and at a lower cost.”.

Beyond the titles of the industry proposals, NASA withheld information about the studies. Aerojet, Northrop, and Whittinghill have put forth at least three proposals that seem to be concentrated on the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), the rocket that will propel the sample cache from Mars’ surface into orbit around the planet. One topic that NASA is especially interested in studying is the MAV, according to the call for mission study proposals.

At a June 5 meeting of the National Academies’ Space Studies Board, which included a discussion of MSR, Sandra Connelly, NASA deputy associate administrator for science, stated, “The Mars Ascent Vehicle is one of the key constraining factors in terms of driving complexity and cost.”.

Not surprisingly, SpaceX is making its Starship vehicle available for MSR. Based on the request for proposals, Blue Origin appears to be considering utilizing some of the government-provided equipment for Mars science, such as the Space Launch System and Lunar Gateway, which are components of the Artemis lunar exploration campaign.

Apart from the seven industry studies, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Applied Physics Laboratory, and several NASA centers are conducting comparable MSR studies with NASA’s assistance. According to Connelly, the studies’ scope and timeline will be comparable to those of the industry.

NASA will stick to the study schedule that was outlined in April, she stated during the Space Studies Board meeting. The formal start of the studies will take place in the middle of July, with a 45-day deadline for the interim report and a 90-day deadline for the final report. After that, NASA will examine those studies to decide whether to modify the MSR architecture. “Hopefully, in early 2025, the agency path forward will be available. “.

Although it provided no precise metrics, NASA stated in the call for proposals that it aimed to reduce peak annual spending as well as the total cost of MSR. Furthermore, the agency failed to establish a deadline for expediting sample delivery. According to Connelly, the decision was made on purpose to make sure that businesses submitted designs that were feasible rather than ideas meant to meet a particular budget or timeline requirement.

During the meeting, Connelly and other NASA representatives stated that there is no assurance that any of the studies, which aim to encourage what the agency refers to as “out of the box” approaches to MSR, will successfully reduce costs or expedite schedules.

Jeff Gramling, director of the MSR program at NASA Headquarters, stated at the Space Studies Board meeting, “This is the opportunity to hear what industry has to tell us” about cutting the cost and schedule of MSR. “This is the agency’s attempt to ensure that everything has been covered before setting the mission’s baseline. “.

scroll to top