Text/Guanwen Shi said
In June 2023, NASA's Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission revealed budget overruns and behind schedule.
Ars Technica, a well-known technology media, reported that the MSR mission originally planned to return Mars samples to Earth in 2033, but due to technical and financial difficulties, the actual return time may be significantly delayed to 2035.
By comparison, China's first return to Mars sample is 2031, a full four years ahead of NASA. NASA's delays to Mars have raised concerns that it is falling behind China in the space race. The MSR mission's dilemma will be a big challenge for NASA.
NASA's Mars Sample Return Program exploded in funding
The program, which was originally expected to cost about $4.4 billion, has now exceeded $9 billion and is expected to increase.
The main reasons for budget overruns are as follows:
First, there were problems with the original design of the mission, and the original plan was to use a sampler to complete sampling and launch, but later due to the technical difficulty, NASA split the mission into two parts and executed it in two launches.
This directly resulted in a $1 billion increase in the budget.
Second, there are loopholes in project management, and the jet propulsion laboratory in charge of the program has never completed such a large Mars lander independently before, and the institutional capacity is insufficient.
At the same time, the laboratory is also working on the Europa speedboat project, which will be launched in 2024. Two projects are running at the same time, which is a serious drain on resources.
Third, the risk assessment is insufficient, and in the new plan, the launch of the sample return vehicle is postponed to 2030, and the return time is at least until 2033.
But the sampling mission Perseverance has already set off for Mars in 2020, and there is a lot of uncertainty about whether it will still work normally 10 years later.
A similar situation has occurred before in the James Webb telescope project. The James Webb Plan initially budgeted only $500 million, but ended up costing $10 billion. The main reasons are underestimation of technical difficulty and excessive requirements for system reliability.
If the launch schedule continues to be delayed, the risk of successful return of Mars samples increases. This is already beginning to have an impact on NASA's other deep space exploration programs, such as the delay of the Venus mission by 3 years.
NASA believes that the project budget will continue to grow, and warns of the difficulty of returning Mars samples as planned if the potential risks cannot be controlled.
The moon landing in China and the United States is exhaustive, and Mars exploration goes straight to the point
Recently, NASA administrators have repeatedly publicly emphasized that China and the United States are engaged in a race to the moon and that the United States must win the race. He warned that China's space industry is progressing rapidly, and the United States is already in a very disadvantageous position.
The American "Apollo" spacecraft completed many successful missions to the moon, sending astronauts to the moon safely and bringing back lunar samples. To this day, the United States still retains significant advantages in manned spaceflight technology.
However, China is also steadily moving forward with its own moon landing. The "Chang'e" series of lunar exploration projects have achieved fruitful results and laid the foundation for China's manned lunar landing.
While there is a gap between China and the United States in their lunar landing schedules, the space race is unpredictable, and the pace of China's progress is weighing on the United States.
In terms of Mars exploration, the United States and China have adopted different strategies. The U.S. Perseverance rover has already achieved sample collection, and NASA plans to complete the first Mars sample return in 2031.
However, a recent assessment report pointed out that the project faces technical and financial difficulties and is unlikely to be realized on schedule. At that time, China is expected to return to Earth first with the first Mars samples.
China's Mars exploration is more pragmatic and the goals are simple and straightforward. China is eyeing a representative small number of samples, and as long as it can successfully collect Mars samples and return them to Earth, the number and type do not matter.
This is in contrast to the approach in the United States, which focuses on large-scale, all-encompassing sample collection.
It can be seen that in the field of space exploration, the United States and China have adopted different strategies. The United States pays more attention to the accumulation of science and technology, and the task setting is complicated, while China pays more attention to speed and adopts a simple and direct approach.
The two countries have their own priorities, but both contribute to the cause of human space. In the future, China and the United States should strengthen exchanges and cooperation, complement each other's advantages, and jointly promote space exploration and progress.
China's Mars Sampling Return: Pragmatic and efficient is better than blind perfection
NASA's Mars sample-return program, MSR, was originally designed to be too complex, which not only increased the risk of failure, but also greatly increased the cost and extended the time.
China's Mars sampling and return plan, which launched Tianwen III, adopted a more pragmatic and efficient design.
NASA originally planned the MSR to be three launches, including the sample collection Perseverance, the orbiter returner ERO, and a sample collection plus ascender integrated probe.
Perseverance has been launched in 2020, and ERO plans to launch in 2027. But NASA decided that the third step of collecting and ascending the probe was too complicated, so it decided to split into two probes to launch in 2028 and 2030.
This not only increased the budget by $1 billion, but also delayed the return from 2031 to 2033.
In contrast, China's Mars sample-return program, Astronomical III, includes only two launches. In 2028, an orbital returner will be launched first, followed by a sampling lander.
The lander is expected to complete sampling and launch in March 2030 to dock with the orbiter, and return to Earth in July 2031.
NASA's plans are intertwined, with 4 launches, and each mistake will lead to failure. China's plan has only 2 launches, and the probability of success is higher.
Even if the success rate of each launch is 90%, then the overall success rate for China is 81% and NASA's is 73%. China's sampling landers also utilize proven designs for greater reliability.
China has adopted a simple and efficient "dig a spoonful and go" approach. NASA's plan was too polished, increasing risk and cost, and vastly extending the timeline.
Chinese focus on outcomes rather than process, this pragmatic and efficient design approach makes Astronomical III likely to beat MSR as the first mission to achieve Mars sample return.
In fact, NASA's original MSR program was arguably overly complicated. Perseverance was first sent for Mars exploration and sampling, which is expected to collect as many as 44 samples.
These samples are diverse, including rocks, soils, gases, etc., and each sample is carefully screened for scientific research. After sampling by Perseverance, it will be temporarily stored on the surface of Mars, waiting for subsequent probes to retrieve it.
It can be seen that NASA has quite strict requirements for samples and insists on collecting the most valuable samples. But this also lays hidden dangers for subsequent sampling and transportation back to Earth.
The sampling points are scattered, and the sampling detectors need to be collected one by one, which increases the risk of failure. More importantly, there are too many types of samples, which require extremely high transportation and storage conditions, which undoubtedly increases the difficulty of transporting them back to Earth.
China's Mars sampling program, by contrast, is much simpler and more straightforward. There was only one goal, to collect samples and transport them back to Earth.
There are no strict requirements for the type and number of samples collected, and the "land first, then say" strategy is adopted, and after landing, samples are taken on Mars and then transported back to Earth. This design idea is simple and efficient, and it also reduces the number of failures.
Specifically, China's planned sample-return lander will directly select a landing site with high scientific value, which also simplifies the sampling process.
After landing, samples are collected directly at the landing site, eliminating the need for complex movement and sampling. The variety and quantity of samples is also limited, which may be simple surface rock and soil.
These samples are sufficient for the first Mars sample return, and there is no need for unnecessary refinement.
It can be said that NASA's MSR program pursues perfectionism, collecting the richest and most valuable samples possible.
But this also leads to a high degree of complexity in the plan, and the risks and difficulties are greatly increased. China's Mars sampling return is more pragmatic, focusing on transporting samples back to Earth, and the sampling process is relatively simple and efficient.
This design concept is more reliable and also makes China the first to return Mars samples.
China's road to independent innovation in aerospace cannot be denied
On September 17, NASA Administrator Bill Nielsen again attacked and smeared China's space industry during a US congressional hearing, with incredible remarks.
He claimed that China's space technology was "stolen" from the United States, and that the exterior design of Chinese and American rockets was "strikingly similar."
This remark triggered a strong counterattack from Chinese experts, who pointed out that China's space industry is a development path independently explored under the long-term blockade of the United States, and China's many space achievements are the first in the world.
Nielsen's remarks are not only absurd, but also expose the low level and sinister mentality.
In fact, China has always adhered to the peaceful use of space and made significant contributions to mankind.
If Chang'e-4 successfully achieves the soft landing on the far side of the moon, this is the first time in the history of human spaceflight, and the successful realization of the two goals of orbiting Mars and landing on Mars by the Tianwen-1 Mars probe at one time is also the first time in the world.
China's many achievements in aerospace are recognized by the world, and China has been awarded the IAF "Space Achievement Award" for these two breakthrough achievements.
Nielsen, on the other hand, has groundlessly accused China of "stealing" American technology, and in fact, the United States has been blocking China by various means for decades.
For example, the long-term high-tech embargo was imposed, and in 2011, the Wolf Clause was passed, which directly prohibits any space cooperation between China and the United States.
It is under this circumstance that China has to independently explore its own space path and finally achieve world-renowned achievements. Chinese experts believe that Nielsen's accusations are unfounded and that history is bound to laugh at his remarks.
Some analysts believe that Nielsen's distorted facts and unprovoked attack on China is likely to approve more NASA budgets for the US Congress.
Since Nielsen took office, he has repeatedly played up the so-called "Sino-US space race" at congressional hearings to win more funding.
But there is no so-called "space race" between China and the United States. China's adherence to the peaceful use of space and the building of a community with a shared future for mankind must be clarified.
Chinese experts call on NASA to put aside its arrogance, not to continue to attack and smear China, but to adopt a constructive attitude and contribute to the future space cooperation between China and the United States. There is no doubt that only through equal cooperation between the two countries can they truly benefit mankind.
More points are that Nielsen's baseless accusations fully expose his bad intentions. The development process of China's space industry is clear, and almost all major breakthroughs are world firsts.
The Tiangong space station has been built as the only space station in the world, the success rate of the landing of the Tianwen-1 Mars rover is far ahead of the international level, and the Shenzhou spacecraft has completed dozens of missions to send people into space. These are all important symbols of China's independent innovation in aerospace.
Some experts also suggested that although China and the United States have different paths in space development, they should both uphold a common vision of peaceful use of space.
NASA should not indulge in the "Cold War mentality" of the past, let alone slander China, but should adopt an open attitude and cooperate with China.
China has repeatedly stated that space is a common cause of all mankind and is willing to carry out exchanges and cooperation with all countries, including the United States. In the future, if China and the United States can carry out joint projects in areas such as the space station, it will greatly benefit the development of human society.
The development process of China's aerospace industry is clear, and its breakthrough and innovation come entirely from independent innovation. Nielsen's groundless accusation of "stealing technology" is not only absurd, but also exposes its ulterior motives.
China is willing to continue to uphold the peaceful use of space and carry out mutually beneficial cooperation with all countries, including the United States. I believe that as long as prejudice is put aside, China and the United States can go hand in hand to benefit mankind.