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- The past decade has brought about a radical transformation in NASA's planetary exploration program. At the beginning of this decade, NASA was focused on the Cassini mission to Saturn. Following on the heels of the successful Voyager and Galileo missions, Cassini represents the culmination of an evolution towards successively larger, more complex, and more expensive spacecraft. The Cassini spacecraft weighs in at over 5 metric tons, and carries an entry probe and a sophisticated suite of sensors supporting 27 different science investigations enabling a comprehensive scientific investigation of Saturn with a single spacecraft. The cost of this spacecraft exceeded $2B, including the cost of the large Titan IV launch vehicle. During Cassini development, NASA realized that it could no longer afford these "flagship" missions, and the agency moved aggressively towards a "faster, better, cheaper" design philosophy of focused science goals and simpler, rapidly-developed spacecraft, allowing much more frequent launches of smaller, lower-cost missions. The Mars Global Surveyor, launched in November 1996, is an example of this new paradigm. Developed in less than 3-years, MGS is only one-fifth the mass of Cassini, and only cost on the order of $220M. The reduced spacecraft mass allows use of the smaller, lower cost Delta launch vehicle. Currently in orbit about Mars, MGS carries a focused suite of six science instruments that are currently returning high-resolution remote sensing of the Martian surface. The future calls for continued even more aggressive mass and cost targets. Examples of these next-generation goals are embodied in the Mars Micromission spacecraft concept, targeted for launch in 2003. With a mass of only 200kg, this lightweight bus can be tailored to carry a variety of payloads to Mars or other inner-planet destinations. The design of the Micromission spacecraft enable them to be launched at extremely low cost as a secondary "piggyback" payload.
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- NASA Technical Reports Server (NTRS) Collection.
- Document ID: 20000055580.
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