The total cost of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission could reach $2 billion as the program races to surmount its developmental problems and make its scheduled 2009 launch, according to Associate Administrator for Science Alan Stern.
A surface rover the size of a small car, the flagship-level MSL mission originally was approved at a cost of $1.5 billion, Stern told a Feb. 20 meeting of the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG) in Monrovia, Calif. The latest estimate for the program is $1.8 billion, but it continues to rise, Stern said.
MSL's problems began to surface last year, when NASA had to shift $62 million to the program and cost-cap its various instruments to keep it on track. Just a few months later, the program revealed it would not be able to make its September 2009 launch date without another infusion of cash, as it dealt with a costly change in its thermal protection scheme (DAILY, Feb. 14).
Following an evaluation by an independent cost team, NASA is bracing itself to shift an estimated $165 million to keep MSL going. That money will be taken from current appropriations, and will come from within the Science Mission Directorate's Planetary division, Stern said.
"From what we've been told by the independent cost review team, this is not the end," Stern said. "It's going to go up some more. We just don't know how much."