Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Another Mars One update

I'm chipping away at a longer piece on Mars One, which means I'll be recycling some of my notes...

Mars One Suspends Work on Robotic Missions by Jeff Foust — February 18, 2015

WASHINGTON — A private organization that recently selected finalists for one-way human missions to Mars in the mid-2020s has quietly suspended work on a pair of robotic missions, putting into question plans to launch those spacecraft in 2018.

Mars One, a Dutch-based nonprofit organization, announced in December 2013 it was starting work on two robotic missions it planned to launch in 2018 as precursors to its human expeditions to Mars. One spacecraft would orbit Mars and serve as a communications relay, while the other would be a lander to test technologies planned for later crewed missions.

At that time, Mars One announced it had selected Lockheed Martin to begin work on the lander mission and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) to start work on the orbiter. Mars One awarded contracts to each company to perform concept studies of the planned missions.

“These missions are the first step in Mars One’s overall plan of establishing a permanent human settlement on Mars,” Bas Landsorp, Mars One chief executive and co-founder, said in a December 2013 press conference here announcing the missions. “We believe we are in very good shape to make this happen.”

However, both companies confirmed with SpaceNews that, since the completion of those study contracts, they have not received additional contracts from Mars One to continue work on those missions.

“SSTL delivered the concept study for the Mars One communications system last year,” SSTL spokeswoman Joelle Sykes said Feb. 16. “There are no follow-on activities underway at the moment.”

“Lockheed Martin has concluded the initial contract with Mars One in which we performed mission formulation studies and developed payload interface specifications to support the selection of a payload suite for the 2018 Mars robotic lander,” the company said in a statement Feb. 17. “We continue to maintain an open channel of communications with Mars One and await initiation of the next phase of the program.”
Those plans, though, may depend on the progress Mars One makes on its robotic missions, and there time is of the essence. Lockheed Martin noted in its statement that its proposed Mars One lander is based on a “very mature” design used on NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander mission launched in 2007 and the InSight lander it is building for launch in March 2016.

Despite that heritage, the company said, “we would have to start construction very soon to launch an InSight clone in the 2018 window.”
Another area of concern was funding. The original plan was wildly ambitious, requiring Olympic-level profits from a proposed reality show, but the company had managed to line up an experienced partner to produce the show. Now even that is in question.

No more 'Big Brother' on the red planet: Endemol axes plans for reality TV show that would record life of Mars One explorers - but a documentary will still be made


Last week Mars One announced a list of 100 people who will train on Earth for a one-way mission to the red planet in 2025.

But the venture's accompanying reality TV show - which was to be made by the makers of Big Brother to document their training and new lives on the red planet - has been shelved after the companies were 'unable to reach an agreement on details', MailOnline has learned.

Instead, Mars One is working with a new production company to record the colonists' progress.

It is unclear whether the breakdown in communications may blow a hole in Mars One's already tight $6 billion (£4 billion) budget because TV rights were expected to help finance the majority of the mission.

So far less than $760,000 (£496,000) has been donated to cover the estimated total cost, and time is of the essence.

However, Bas Lansdorp, co-founder and CEO of Mars One, told MailOnline that the idea of a television programme providing a hefty chunk of funding was a 'big misconception'.
'Media exposure is one of our business cases. Funding for the mission will come mostly from equity investors,' he said.

'The return on their investment will come when the first crew leaves or even when it lands: that's when the revenues from the media exposure are much larger than the cost of the mission.'
He said the documentary will 'involve more people in our adventure,' but declined to name the production company that will make the programme.

Initially, there were plans for Endemol to make a reality TV programme documenting the selection process and training of the colonists.

It was to be made by Endemol-owned Darlow Smithson Productions (DSP) and was dubbed 'Big Brother on Mars'.

But DSP told MailOnline: ‘DSP and Mars One were unable reach agreement on the details of the contract and DSP is no longer involved in the project.

'We wish Bas and the team all the very best.’

It is unclear when the decision was made, although Endemol originally said that the first installments of the TV show would air in early 2015.

Lansdorp also told MailOnline: 'We have ended our cooperation with Endemol because we could not reach agreement on the details of the contract.

'We have contracted a new production company that will produce the documentary series for us. 
'They have already produced the trailer on our Youtube channel and progress is good.'

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