Feeds

New NASA nuclear Mars rover hits budget, time problems

Laser rock-crushing droid tank attack for '11?

Build a business case: developing custom apps

NASA's plans for a huge, nuclear powered laser-toting robot tank to succeed the present rovers on the surface of Mars have hit budget problems, according to reports.

The Mars Science Laboratory mission is currently planned by the space agency to lift off late next year and reach the Red Planet in the autumn of 2010, there to spend a full Martian year (almost two terrestrial ones) seeking out signs of life.

The new MSL mega-rover next to one of the current ones

New hotness; old and busted.

But Aviation Week now reports that senior NASA officials believe that the project is likely to go over budget, and that the 2009 launch slot is unrealistic. It appears that the new planet-prowler has already cost $1.5bn, and may soon hit a cost overrun threshold that could trigger cancellation by Congress.

There are also worries that getting the troubled Mars machine away on time would be such a rush that it might not work properly, even if enough funds could be found in the short-term budget. Doug McCuistion, Mars Exploration manager for NASA, even told Av Week that a "nuclear crater on Mars" might result from issues with the MSL's planned radioisotope generator - a nuclear battery. (One of the main limits on the current rovers is the limited amount of power they get from their solar cells.)

The troubles at NASA might see the new crawler delayed until 2011, or even cancelled altogether.

If it flies, however, the MSL will certainly be an impressive piece of kit. It will deploy by lowering on a cable beneath its retro-rocketing, parachuting lander spacecraft. Its radioisotope power source will enable the use of powerful grinders and crushers, able to powder tough Martian rocks for analysis, and a laser able to "vapourise material" up to 10 meters off - for spectrographic analysis, of course.

If any heretofore undetected Martians give the machine any trouble, it would certainly seem capable of looking after itself - assuming it ever gets there. NASA chief Mike Griffin and other bigwigs are set to receive a briefing next week.

The Av Week report is here, and more from NASA on the MSL is here. ®

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Asteroid's DINO KILLING SPREE just bad luck – boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Flamewars in SPAAACE: cooler fires hint at energy efficiency
Experiment aboard ISS shows we should all chill out for cleaner engines
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
NASA Mars rover FINALLY equals 1973 Soviet benchmark
Yet to surpass ancient Greek one, however
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.