As NASA’s next flagship Mars mission, the Mars 2020 rover, moves into its next phase of development, agency officials say the mission will cost $2.1 billion, more than originally estimated for a mission that they argue will also be more capable than first planned.
NASA announced July 15 that the Mars 2020 mission passed a development milestone known as Key Decision Point C (KDP-C), allowing the mission to proceed into Phase C design and development work. The rover is scheduled for launch in mid-2020 and land on Mars in February 2021.
The rover’s primary mission will be to collect rock and soil samples for eventual return to Earth. “The Mars 2020 rover is the first step in a potential multi-mission campaign to return carefully selected and sealed samples of Martian rocks and soil to Earth,” said Geoff Yoder, NASA’s acting associate administrator for science, in a statement.
Completion of the KDP-C milestone for NASA missions is usually accompanied by a formal cost and schedule estimate. Those figures were not included in the July 15 announcement, but Jet Propulsion Laboratory spokesman Guy Webster said July 18 that Mars 2020 now has a cost estimate of $2.1 billion for its development and launch. An additional $300 million will cover operations for one Martian year, or 687 days. Both estimates are at the 70 percent confidence level, meaning that there is a 70 percent chance their costs will be no more than those values.
That amount is significantly higher than initial estimates for the mission when John Grunsfeld, NASA associate administrator for science at the time, announced plans for the mission in December 2012. AHe said then the mission would cost about $1.5 billion, or 40 percent less than the $2.5 billion cost of the Mars Science Laboratory mission that landed the Curiosity rover on Mars in August 2012.