Mars Surveyor Program Description

text by:
S. Squyres (Cornell University) and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Mars Surveyor is an aggressive but cost constrained program to explore Mars over the decade extending from 1997 through 2006. Consisting of small orbiters and landers built by industry and launched to Mars at 26-month intervals from 1996 through 2005, the Surveyor Program will conduct investigations designed to address the mysteries surrounding the most Earth-like planet in our solar system. It will acquire much of the data that would have been returned by Mars Observer, and also replaces the Mars Environmental Survey (MESUR) mission in NASA's plans. The cost of Mars Surveyor is quite modest compared to these other missions: $120-150 million per year, including all flight systems, launch costs, mission operations, and data analysis.

The first mission in the Mars Surveyor Program, designated the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS), is scheduled for launch in November 1996 aboard a Delta launch vehicle and is designed to accomplish many of the objectives of the original Mars Observer mission as well as provide a data relay capability for future surface missions. The 1996 MGS mission is followed with two launches during the 1998 opportunity: a small orbiter approximately one-half the size of MGS with the goal of carrying the balance of the Mars Observer payload; and a small lander derived from, but smaller than the 1996 Mars Pathfinder lander. Both 1998 spacecraft are planned for launch aboard a new launch vehicle, designated the "Med-Lite", which provides approximately one-half the performance of a Delta for approximately one-half the cost.

Additional landers and orbiters are planned for launch during the 2001, 2003, and 2005 Mars launch opportunities to continue and expand the investigations initiated by the 1996 and 1998 orbital and surface missions. It is envisioned that this portion of the Mars Surveyor Program would serve as the cornerstone for an international Mars exploration program involving many countries in a highly synergistic and cost-effective approach to establishing a network of environmental monitoring stations on the surface of Mars.

Because of the inherent interest and excitement generated by planetary exploration, particularly the allure of Mars, the Surveyor Program provides an excellent vehicle for conducting a far reaching science, mathematics, and space education program directed to grammar, middle, and high school students. The key to Mars Surveyor educational outreach plans is the connection of the engineering, science, and management problems faced during the implementation of Mars missions to the fundamental physical, as well as economic and social, principles typically taught at various levels from kindergarten through graduate school. Significant funds have been set aside within the Mars Surveyor program for educational programs.

Mars Surveyor also provides an opportunity for significant technology development, infusion, and transfer. The cost constrained nature of Mars Surveyor mandates the development and infusion of technologies which provide either significant reductions in the size and weight of spacecraft or increased autonomy of spacecraft in carrying out their exploration and science missions. Small spacecraft can be launched by smaller, cheaper launch vehicles. Highly autonomous spacecraft reduce operations costs by requiring a much smaller number of flight controllers than required to monitor and command current spacecraft. Technologies which have potential dual use applications by commercial enterprises will be identified and mechanisms will be established to insure the efficient transfer of these technologies to industry.

In summary, the Mars Surveyor Program exemplifies the faster, better, cheaper philosophy critical to the successful re-invention of NASA and other government agencies. Faster - the maximum development cycle for any mission in the Surveyor suite is less than 3 years. Better - multiple launches of small spacecraft and the prospects of international cooperation provide for a high science return from a program that is not reliant on the success of any single component or mission. Cheaper - total annual costs for the Surveyor Program are capped at less than $150M.

Hypertext version by K. Edgett, May 21, 1994

K. Edgett