Missions to the Red Planet. (Part 1) A look at recent and current Mars missions Andy Hill (Jan 2005)
2 Introduction • Mars has fascinated mankind for thousands of years and been a target for investigation almost since man first went into space. • Now at the start of the 21st century we have at last the means to have a close look at the red planet and maybe in the near future go there ourselves. Beagle 2 Lander- ESA • Mars is a harsh and unforgiving planet and half of the missions sent there have failed, the UK’s ill-fated Beagle 2 being the latest casualty, but the human race keep going back unable to satisfy its curiosity.
3 Recent Mars History • The data received in 1976 from the Viking probes had seemed to confirm that Mars was devoid of life and NASA concluded that it wasn’t worth going there. Viking Lander - NASA • It would take a 1.9 kg rockblasted off the Martian surfaceseveral million years ago to rekindle interest back in the Red Planet. Eventually found inAntarctica in 1984 where it had • lain undisturbed for 13,000 years, its significance was originally overlooked. Mars Meteorite - NASA
4 Recent Mars History • It took 9 years before anyone correctly identified meteorite ALH84001 was one of only 12 so far found on Earth that had originally come from Mars. In 1993 the mistake was spotted and when scientists took a closer look at this piece of our nearest neighbour they discovered, to their amazement, possible evidence of life. • Under a microscope the meteorite appeared to show the fossilised remains of tiny bacteria, although it was disputed by some scientists that the formations were natural. There was only one way to be sure and NASA decided to return to Mars. Microscopic view of Mars Meteorite - NASA
5 Recent Mars Missions • It was hoped that Mars Observer, launched on 25th September 1992 and already on route to Mars might answer whether there were areas on Mars where life might once have existed. Mars Observer- NASA • The on-board instruments were never trained on the Martian surface as the mission ended with disappointment on August 22, 1993, when contact was lost with the spacecraft shortly before it was to enter orbit around Mars. • It was another 3 years before the next spacecraft was sent to Mars.
6 Recent Mars Missions • NASA launched Mars Global Surveyor on 7th November 1996. Its mission was to photograph the Martian surface in much more detail and act as a communications link for future spacecraft. • The orbiter completed its primary mission of measuring the Martian surface from its polar orbit on 31st January 2001. The craft has studied Mars’s surface, atmosphere and interior over an entire Martian year. • Global Surveyor is still in orbit around Mars and continues to send photographs back to Earth, recent ones showing the Opportunity Lander on the planet’s surface. Mars Global Surveyor - NASA
7 Recent Mars Missions • On the 4th December 1996 NASA launched Mars Pathfinder. Its mission was to deploy a lander on the Martian surface which would contain a small robotic rover (Sojourner). This would be remotely controlled from Earth via a relay in the lander. • Mars Pathfinder touched down on the Martian surface on the 4th July 1997 and began sending data back to Earth. • Findings from the investigations carried out by scientific instruments on both the lander and rover suggested that Mars was at one time in its past warm and wet, with water existing in its liquid state and had a thicker atmosphere. • NASA decided further investigation was needed and more missions were planned. Mars Pathfinder & Sojourner - NASA
8 Recent Mars Missions • The opportunity to go to Mars comes around every 26 months when the alignment of the two planet’s orbits around the sun allows spacecraft to travel between them with the least energy. • The next 2 missions to Mars both ended in failure and it is thought that they entered the Martian atmosphere at too steep an angle causing them to burn up as they attempted orbit insertion. • Mars Climate Orbiter launched 11th December 1998 lost on arrival 23rd September 1999. • Mars Polar Lander launched 3rd January 1999 lost on arrival 3rd December 1999. Mars Polar Lander - NASA MarsClimate Orbiter - NASA
9 Current Mars Missions • Launched on April 7th 2001,Mars Odyssey carried someof the instruments lost on thefailed Mars Observer. Thespacecraft entered a circularMars orbit in January 2002. • It was the first spacecraft touse the aerocapture technique,skipping through the planet’supper atmosphere to slow itselfdown to achieve a stable orbit. • The craft’s 2 main instruments, the Thermal Emission Imaging System and Gamma Ray Spectrometer, have mapped the entire Martian surface to a depth of a couple of metres in a search for water and hydrogen, finding deposits at nearly all locations. • Its primary science mission complete, it now acts as a data relay satellite for surface missions. Mars Odyssey - NASA
10 Current Mars Missions • Mars Express was Launchedby ESA on 2nd June 2003, it achieved orbit insertion on 25th December 2003. It continues to map Mars today. • The principal instrument on the spacecraft is the high resolution stereo camera which has been photographing the planet in minute detail. • It carried a small lander whichcontained the rover Beagle 2. This was released on 19th December as Mars Express undertook a series of aero-braking manoeuvres dipping into the upper Martian atmosphere to lose speed. • Beagle 2 was deemed lost after it failed to make contact with Mars Express from the Martian surface. Mars Express & Beagle 2 Launch - ESA
11 Current Mars Missions • The most ambitious Mars missions to date are thecurrent twin lander missionsof Spirit and Opportunity that have been tracking across the Martian surface for the past year examining soil and rock formations. • Their mission is to search for evidence of water and possible signs of life, either past or present. • In 2004 NASA announced that one of the rovers, Opportunity, had found evidence of ancient water and it is now thought that Mars would have been a suitable place for life to evolve. Spirit rover - NASA
12 Current Mars Missions • Although designed for a 3 month mission only, both rovers have continued to operate with only minor problems. • They have examined more rocks and travelled further than any other landing mission, sending back a mound of data that will take scientists years to process. Spirit on lander - NASA • Having found evidence that Mars was once covered with lakes, rivers and oceans of water that could have supported life, the search still goes on to find evidence of life itself either modern or ancient. • Perhaps the next missions to the Red Planet will find that evidence. Spirit driving across Mars - NASA
13 Confirmed Future Mars Missions • Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)is due for launch in August of thisyear and will arrive at Mars in March 2006. It will finish aerobraking inthe November and then begin its 2 year mission. • During its mission it will use a much more powerful imaging system to photograph the Martian surface with a resolution of 20-30cm. • In addition to its high-resolution camera, the MRO will carry a ground-penetrating radar, an infrared radiometer designed for atmospheric studies, and a colour images to monitor dust storms. The orbiter will also serve as a high-powered communications relay for future surface missions offering a substantial increase in data throughput and giving the possibility of sending video from surface rovers. MRO - NASA
14 Confirmed Future Mars Missions • Phoenix Lander will be the first NASA scout mission and is due to launch in October 2007. • Its name comes from the fact that it is a duplicateof the failed Mars Polar Lander mission of 1999.After that failure a copy ofthe lander due to launch in2001 was put in storage. It is this craft that will be sent to Mars. • It will land in the frozen northern arctic plain of Mars where its robotic arm and microscopic imager will be capable of digging up to a metre into the soil in order to search for water in the frozen permafrost. At present it is not certain how much the instrument payload will be modified. Phoenix Lander undergoing trials - NASA
15 Confirmed Future Mars Missions • Net Lander is currently scheduledfor launch in September 2007,although the mission is underreview and may be delayed until2009. • The Net Lander project would deliver an orbiter spacecraft as well as land a cluster of four landers on the Red Planet. • It will be a truly networked mission, with the four landers acting in concert with the orbiter to study Mars jointly. Their examinations would focus on the internal structure of Mars and its atmosphere. • Net Lander would be launched on an Ariane 5 launch vehicle, perhaps together with another payload. If the NetLander mission goes ahead, it would be the first network of scientific stations ever deployed on Mars. Mars Net Lander model - CNES
16 Confirmed Future Mars Missions • Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), scheduled for launch by NASA in November 2009, will be much larger than the current rovers and track across the Martian surface for 1 Mars year (=687 Sols). • This mission will have anuclear engine, a more powerful version of the engine originally used on the Viking landers, rather than rely on solar power. • Rather than use the usual airbag landing technique MSL will use a powered landing dubbed Skycrane. Still under development the craft will hover 5m above the Martian surface, the rover will slip down a tether and be deposited softly on the ground ready to begin exploration. • Skycrane will then clear the MSL landing site with a short hop and crash harmlessly away from the rover. Mars science lab - NASA
17 Confirmed Future Mars Missions • NASA’s Sample Return mission is currently scheduled to launch in 2014 or later, however this date is not fixed and the mission may be undertaken as early as 2011. • The mission would consists of5 components; -Orbiter-Lander-2 mini rovers-Solid Rocket Ascent Vehicle. • The lander would dispatch the 2 rovers to gather samples which would be returned and placed in the accent vehicle. Once full, the accent vehicle would blast off and rendezvous with the orbiter which would transport the samples back to Earth. • There is still some debate whether it is safe to bring back samples that might harbour Martian organisms. Mars Sample Return - NASA
18 Possible Future Mars Missions • In addition to confirmed missions already mentioned, NASA wishes to send a couple of extra scout missions to Mars. • There are no firm dates for launch but the earliest opportunity would be in 2011. • Here are the 3 front runners formissions that NASA might undertake; -Mars Volcanic Emission and Life Scout (MARVEL)-Aerial Regional-scale Environment Survey of Mars (ARES)-Sample Collection for Investigation of Mars (SCIM) • Other missions being considered include the possibility of flying the first gliders on Mars (KittyHawk) or a lander with a heated probe to melt through Martian ice to a depth of 100 yards (CryoScout). ARES Scout mission - NASA
19 Where Will All This Lead? • Eventually, after this battery of probes, landers and orbiters have done as much as they can to enlighten us about the Red Planet we will send a human mission there. • Current estimates are quoting a time-frame for the first manned Mars mission as being some time after 2030, ESA has said that it would like to send a mission by 2033 but no definite plans have been put in place. • Presently, the only credible organisation capable of a Manned Mars mission is NASA and it is decades away from doing so. Left alone NASA would quite happily send ever more complex probes there, but other nations are fast acquiring the technology to mount a manned mission and the USA will feel obliged to compete in any race to be first to set foot on Martian soil. • Then there is always the possibility that a probe will discover life there and if this happens it is likely to speed the process up considerably. Don’t expect any little green men peering in confusion into a lander’s camera though, it seems likely that only bacteria might have evolved, but we live in hope.
20 Acknowledgements This Presentation would not have been possible without the help of the following organisations and sources: • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)www.nasa.gov • European Space Agency (ESA)www.esa.int • French National Space Agency (CNES)www.cnes.fr • MarsNews.com –NewsWire for the New Frontierwww.MarsNews.com