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NASA Warns MSR Costs Could Impact Other Scientific Missions

NASA's Mars Sample Return (MSR) program is facing significant cost increases that are starting to impact other science missions.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Tue Mar 21 2023Written by Zac Aubert

NASA's Mars Sample Return (MSR) program is facing significant cost increases that are starting to impact other science missions.

In NASA's 2024 fiscal year budget proposal, NASA requested $949.3 million for the program, a 19% increase from its projection of $800 million last year. NASA is now warning that costs will continue to grow and that it may have to descope elements of the mission and reduce funding for other science programs to address the budget challenge.

The joint effort with the European Space Agency (ESA) will send multiple missions to Mars to collect samples from the Perseverance rover and return them to Earth.

According to NASA's 2024 budget documents, the proposed future spending projections remain unchanged; with projections of $700 million in fiscal year 2025, $600 million in 2026, and $612.1 million in 2027, with the addition of $627.6 million in 2028.

"The agency is currently working through a series of preliminary design reviews (PDR), before formally confirming the mission." - Nicola Fox, Associate Administrator For Science for MSR

The Mars Sample Return Director at NASA Headquarters, expects a system-level PDR in September, followed by a confirmation review in October, where NASA sets formal cost and schedule commitments for programs.

To address this increasing mission costs, NASA is considering reducing elements of the Mars Sample Return mission, with one concept being they could remove one of the two sample retrieval helicopters added to the MSR mission concept last year

NASA stated in its 2024 budget documents that it had to "rebalance work" at JPL to ensure adequate support for high-priority missions in development and formulation such as MSR, Europa Clipper, and Psyche. As a result, the VERITAS Venus mission was delayed last fall, endangering its future, according to the document.

The growing cost of MSR is also impacting other NASA science programs, including the delay of the Geospace Dynamics Constellation (GDC), a major heliophysics mission. The delay of the GDC is a major factor in an overall reduction in heliophysics funding in the budget, from $805 million in 2023 to a request of $750.9 million in 2024.

The cost increases for MSR have raised concerns among industry, who warn that cutting science programs could have long term negative consequences.