[Federal Register: February 22, 2001 (Volume 66, Number 36)]

[Page 11184-11185]

From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]




[Notice 01-028]

National Environmental Policy Act; Mars Exploration Rover-2003

AGENCY: National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement
and to conduct scoping for the Mars Exploration Rover-2003 (MER-2003)


SUMMARY: Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969
(NEPA), as amended (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), the Council on
Environmental Quality Regulations for Implementing the Procedural
Provisions of NEPA (40 CFR parts 1500-1508), and NASA’s policy and
procedures (14 CFR part 1216 subpart 1216.3), NASA intends to conduct
scoping and prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for the
proposed Mars Exploration Rover-2003 (MER-2003) project. The purpose of
this project would be to place two mobile science laboratories (rovers)
on the surface of Mars to remotely conduct geological investigations,
and to characterize a diversity of rocks and soils, which may hold
clues to past water activity.

The MER-2003 project involves two launches in 2003 of identical
MER-2003 spacecraft (the MER-A mission and MER-B mission) from Cape
Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), Florida. The MER-A launch aboard a
Delta II launch system would occur during May or June 2003. The MER-B
launch would occur during June or July 2003, also aboard a Delta II
launch system. Potential environmental impacts to be considered are
those potential impacts associated with normal launches from CCAFS, and
radiological and non-radiological risks associated with launch
accidents. Each rover and its associated lander in combination (lander-
rover) may require the use of up to 11 Radioisotope Heater Units (RHUs)
for temperature control and small quantities of curium-244 and cobalt-
57 for scientific instrumentation.

DATES: Interested parties are invited to submit comments on
environmental concerns in writing on or before April 9, 2001, to assure
full consideration during the scoping process.

ADDRESSES: Comments should be addressed to Mr. David Lavery, NASA
Headquarters, Code SD, Washington, DC 20546-0001. While hardcopy
comments are preferred, comments may be sent by electronic mail to:

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: David Lavery, 202-358-4800 or by
electronic mail at marsnepa@hq.nasa.gov.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: NASA proposes to launch the MER-2003
spacecraft (MER-A and MER-B) in 2003 to gather scientific data on the
geological characteristics of the Martian surface environment in
pursuit of NASA’s goal of understanding Mars in terms of whether or not
life exists or has ever existed on the planet. The MER-2003 project
would help NASA ensure continuity of its overall Mars exploration

The proposed first launch of the MER-A mission would take place
during May or June 2003 from CCAFS. A Delta II launch system would be
employed to launch the spacecraft on its trajectory to Mars, with an
arrival in January 2004. The Delta II launch system would include nine
graphite epoxy strap-on solid rocket motors, a liquid bi-propellant
first stage, a liquid bi-propellant restartable second stage, and a
solid propellant STAR-48B third stage. The MER-B mission would be
launched from CCAFS during June or July 2003 using a Delta II launch
system, with an arrival at Mars in February 2004.

Each MER-2003 spacecraft would consist of a cruise stage and an
entry, descent, and landing (EDL) system which would include an
aeroshell, backshell, parachute, and airbags. A lander containing a
large rover would be enclosed within the EDL system. The primary
function of the EDL system would be to convey its lander-rover safely
to the surface of the planet. Each rover would weigh up to
approximately 153 kilograms (about 337 pounds). Each rover would carry
all science instruments and communications equipment for transmitting
to and receiving data from Earth, either by using an existing Mars
orbiting spacecraft or by communicating directly with Earth.

Each rover would be equipped with a number of scientific
instruments, including: a stereo panoramic camera, a miniature thermal
emission spectrometer, a magnetic target array, a Moessbauer
spectrometer, a microscopic surface imager, an alpha-particle X-ray
spectrometer (APXS), and a rock abrasion tool. These instruments would
be employed to characterize the chemical and geological nature of the
landing site and surrounding area, and to provide images for
transmission to Earth. Each rover would be designed to function a
minimum of 90 sols (1 sol = 1 Martian day = 24 hours, 37 minutes or
1.026 Earth days). The Moessbauer spectrometer and the APXS both would
employ small amounts of radioactive materials as instrument sources.
The Moessbauer spectrometer would utilize up to 1.30 x
1010 becquerels (Bq) (350 millicuries (mCi)) of cobalt-57.
The APXS would use up to 1.85 x 109 Bq (50 mCi) of curium-
244. Radioisotope Heater Units (RHUs) would be used on each rover to
support survival of science instruments and electronics in the low
temperatures on Mars. RHUs may also be required on each lander for
thermal control during cruise. Each RHU contains approximately 2.7
grams (about 0.1 ounce) of plutonium dioxide to generate heat. A total
of up to eleven RHUs may be required on-board each lander-rover. The
inventory of plutonium dioxide on-board each lander-rover could total
up to 29.7 grams (1.1 ounces) with a total activity of about 13.5 x
1012 Bq (approximately 365 curies (Ci)).

The proposed MER-2003 missions would employ a technique similar to
that demonstrated by the 1996 Mars Pathfinder mission to ensure a safe
landing on the surface of Mars. This technique would employ a heat
shield, small solid retro-rockets, and a parachute to decelerate the
lander as it passes through the Martian atmosphere. A system of airbags
would then be used to cushion and protect the lander upon contact with
the Martian surface. Once each lander comes to rest the airbags would
deflate and the lander petals would unfold. Each rover would then drive
off of its lander platform and begin exploring the landing site. NASA
has not selected specific landing sites yet but is currently
considering potential sites between 15 degrees South to 5 degrees North
for the MER-A mission, and between 15 degrees South and 15 degrees
North for the MER-B mission.

This EIS will address the purpose and need for the proposed MER-
2003 project in detail and the environmental impacts associated with
its implementation. The environmental

impacts of this project are anticipated to be those associated with the
normal launch of both missions. Potential consequences of accident
situations will also be addressed.

Written public input and comments on environmental impacts and
concerns associated with the Mars Exploration Rover-2003 project are

Jeffrey E. Sutton,

Associate Administrator for Management Systems.

[FR Doc. 01-4363 Filed 2-21-01; 8:45 am]