The only future U.S. Mars mission approved by Congress for a new start is MESUR (Mars Environmental Survey) Pathfinder, part of a new class of "smaller, faster, cheaper" solar system exploration missions that NASA proposed last year. The concept caps costs at $150 million a flight.
- Flying two or more smaller craft based on the new, lightweight Miniature Seeker Technology Integration (MSTI) spacecraft platform. It was developed by JPL on a fast schedule and at low cost ($15 million) for the former "Star Wars" organization, now known as the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), for testing infrared sensors. The first MSTI platform, weighing 370 lb., was launched into earth orbit last November. Designed for Earth orbit, the MSTI craft would have to be adapted for flight to another planet and therefore could pose serious technical risks, according to some experts. It would be launched on a Delta rocket.
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