December 11, 2012
The resurrection of Mars Sample Return
The Space Review
There had been rumors for a couple of weeks that NASA would make a big announcement about Mars at one of the largest annual meetings of scientists, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference in San Francisco. The rumors were about the possibility that NASA’s Curiosity rover had discovered something very interesting on Mars. As it turned out, the Curiosity science results, although interesting, were not nearly up to the hype. But NASA did make a major announcement at AGU: NASA is taking the first step towards the ultimate scientific goal for the red planet, Mars Sample Return.
You can be forgiven if you missed it, because NASA was careful not to use the words “Mars Sample Return” in their press release. Instead, they announced that they are going to build another rover, based on the successful Curiosity design and using some spare parts manufactured for Curiosity, to be launched in 2020. In the official press release, NASA stated that the instrument suite is still to be determined. But make no mistake, this is the first step toward sample return, and in many ways represents a major reversal for the Obama Administration.
To understand what happened, you have to know the context.
November 06, 2012
Making Rocket Fuel on Mars (1978)
In the late 1970s, through the initiative of its director, Bruce Murray, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) studied a range of possible Mars missions, including Mars Sample Return (MSR). Murray and others at the Pasadena, California-based lab were aware that funds for new Mars missions would be hard to come by; the U.S. economy was under strain and NASA, JPL’s main customer, was devoting most of its resources to developing the Space Shuttle. In addition, equivocal data from the astrobiology experiments on the twin Vikings, the first successful Mars landers, had damped public enthusiasm for the Red Planet. Would-be Mars explorers reasoned that, if an MSR mission would stand a chance of acceptance, then they would need to find technologies and techniques that could dramatically trim its anticipated cost.
October 26, 2012
Mars visits remain a top NASA priority
NASA will continue its plans to explore Mars despite uncertainty about where the country’s space program is headed , experts said Thursday.
Recent missions have been successful and future missions are on track, said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA headquarters.
“We now know enough about Mars to know where to go,” he said .
Green made his comments at a two-day NASA-sponsored event at Lockheed Martin’s Global Visions Center in Arlington, Va., marking the 50th anniversary of planetary exploration.
A major goal of NASA’s Mars program is to bring pieces of the planet back to Earth for analysis, Green said.
October 18, 2012
‘Biological Teleporter’ Will Find Martian DNA, Beam It Back to Earth
Scientific maverick J. Craig Venter says he is confident there is life on Mars and this week announced plans to send a "biological teleporter" to the Red Planet to find Martian DNA and beam it back to Earth.
“There will be life forms there,” Venter, who is best known for helping to sequence the human genome, said at a Wired Health conference held in New York this week.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Venter said he plans to send a machine to Mars to seek out Martian life and sequence its DNA. The alien genome could then be beamed back to Earth, where it could be reassembled in a super-secure space lab.
"People are worried about the Andromeda strain," Venter said. "We can rebuild the Martians in a P-4 spacesuit lab instead of having them land in the ocean."
October 10, 2012
China considers more Mars probes before 2030
China is planning a three-phase probe to collect samples from the Mars by 2030, the chief scientist of the country's lunar orbiter project said Wednesday.
The three stages are remote sensing, softlanding and exploration, and return after automatic sampling, said Ouyang Ziyuan at a lecture organized by Chinese Society of Astronautics.
Ouyang also briefed on the imminent tests of China's lunar probe of the Chang'e-3, a moon-landing orbiter expected to be launched in the second half of 2013.
October 02, 2012
ESA May Have Role In NASA Mars Sample Mission
Aviation Week & Space Technology
NASA has decided it can do a Mars sample-return mission on its own, but it will continue to collaborate with the European Space Agency on Mars exploration despite dropping out of Europe's ExoMars program last year.
Even though Europe has shifted to working with Russia on ExoMars, the program's 2016 orbiter could help provide data and command relays between Earth and a 2018 NASA rover on the surface of Mars. However, it remains to be seen if there will be such a rover, and what it could do if NASA finds the funds to build it.
The U.S. space agency has 4-6 months to decide how it will proceed under its reduced Mars-exploration funding plan. That decision will be shaped by a new set of mission options from the agency's Mars Program Planning Group (MPPG) instrument landing system, and possibly by congressional signals on fiscal 2013 funding levels for Mars. Also in the mix is the role of potential collaborators outside NASA's Science Mission Directorate, including the European Space Agency (ESA).
September 26, 2012
Mars Sample-Return Goal Drives NASA's Exploration of Red Planet
The next steps in NASA's Mars exploration strategy should build toward returning Martian rocks and dirt to Earth to search for signs of past life, a new report by the space agency's Red Planet planning group finds.
The report, released September 25th, 2012 by the Mars Program Planning Group (MPPG), lays out a series of options that NASA could employ to get pieces of the Red Planet in scientists' hands here on Earth. The space agency is now mulling those options and could announce its chosen path by early next year, when the White House releases its proposed budget for fiscal year 2014.
"The first public release of what plans, you know, we definitively have would not be until the president presents that budget to Congress in February of 2013," John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, told reporters today.
August 22, 2012
How a Mars Sample Return Mission Can Go Electric
Solving the mystery of life on Mars requires robots to collect Martian samples for a return to Earth — a mission that may come with the astronomical price tag of $5 billion to $10 billion. That round trip to the Red Planet could become cheaper by using electric propulsion.
The Mars sample return (MSR) mission would require powerful electric thrusters and efficient solar panels which are presently under development worldwide or even already existing. Such technology would allow the Mars mission to lighten the load of chemical propellant carried by traditional rockets and spacecraft — and it's within reach for a mission to try recovering Martian rocks and soil in the next decade or two.
January 15, 2012
Phobos-Grunt: Failed Russian Mars Probe Falls to Earth
Somewhere, probably in the southern Pacific between New Zealand and South America, the failed Russian Phobos-Grunt Mars probe returned ignominiously to Earth today, said the Russian space agency Roscosmos and the U.S. Space Command.
The agencies said they believed the ship reentered the atmosphere shortly before 1 p.m. ET.
Failed Russia Mars probe set to crash today
Russia's space agency on Sunday called off all predictions of the likely crash site of its ill-fated Mars probe only hours before the 13.5-tonne spacecraft was due to begin its fatal descent.
Roscosmos said on its website that fragments of the stranded Phobos-Grunt voyager would probably fall to Earth on Sunday between 1436 GMT and 2224 GMT.
But it cancelled its Saturday forecast of the debris splashing down in the Pacific off the western coast of Chile. Two earlier updates had the fragments falling into the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.
"The operations support group is keeping continuous watch of the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft's descent from orbit," the brief Roscosmos statement said.
The unmanned $165 million vessel -- stuck in orbit since its November 9 launch -- will be one of the largest objects to re-enter the atmosphere since Russia brought down the Soviet-era Mir space station in 2001.
January 14, 2012
Reports vary about failed Russian Mars probe’s reentry time
Doomed Russian Phobos-Grunt Mars probe that's been stuck in Earth orbit for two months may finally come crashing down on January 15 over the Pasific Ocean, Russia’s space agency Roscosmos said on Saturday.
Roscosmos said the spacecraft will fall within the eight-hour interval starting from 18:36 on Sunday Moscow time [14:36 GMT] to 2:24 on Monday [22:24 Sunday GMT]. The possible scatter zone is 51.4 degrees North latitude to 51.4 degrees South latitude.
As of 20.30 Saturday, the spacecraft was moving in the near-Earth orbit with an altitude that varied between 144.6 km at perigee and 167.1 km at apogee, the Russian space agency said.
According to the latest report from the U.S. Strategic Command, the failed probe would hit Earth's atmosphere between 17:26 Moscow time Sunday [13:26] and 03:02 Moscow time Monday [23:02 Sunday GMT]. It puts the altitude at between 138.1 km at perigee and 160.2 km at apogee.
January 12, 2012
Failed Russian Mars probe may fall to Earth on Sunday
A doomed Russian Mars probe that's been stuck in Earth orbit for two months may finally come crashing down Sunday over the Indian Ocean, Russian space officials say.
The 14.5-ton Phobos-Grunt spacecraft should fall back to Earth between Saturday and Monday (Jan. 14 to Jan. 16), Russia's Federal Space Agency, known as Roscosmos, announced in a statement Wednesday.
If Phobos-Grunt comes down at the "central point" in that window — 5:18 a.m. EST on Sunday — it will fall over a stretch of empty ocean west of the Indonesian island of Java, according to a re-entry projection map Roscosmos published with the update.
Russian Official Suggests Weapon Caused Exploration Spacecraft’s Failure
The New York Times
A Russian scientific spacecraft whizzing out of control around the Earth, and expected to re-enter the atmosphere on Saturday, may have failed because it was struck by some type of antisatellite weapon, the director of Russia’s space agency said in an interview published Tuesday. He did not say who would want to interfere with the spacecraft, which was intended to explore a moon of Mars. Russia has not succeeded in sending a spacecraft to Mars since the 1980s. An attempt in 1996 to launch a Mars lander that could burrow below the planet’s surface failed because of a flaw in the rocket that carried it.
Phobos-Grunt, which took about five years to build and cost $160 million at current exchange rates, was launched from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan on Nov. 9; it also carried a small Chinese Mars orbiter.
January 07, 2012
Video tracks stricken Mars probe
The failed Russian Mars probe Phobos-Grunt has been pictured moving across the sky by the Paris-based amateur astronomer Thierry Legault.
The spacecraft is seen moving left to right in the video. The bulbous shape of its fuel tanks and its outstretched solar panels are easily discernable.
Mr Legault uses a sophisticated telescopic tracking system and captured similar imagery of Nasa's defunct UARS satellite last year.
Phobos-Grunt is falling to Earth.
It is expected to re-enter the atmosphere in the next 8-9 days and burn up.
December 26, 2011
Russia’s lost Phobos-Grunt to fall in Afghanistan – U.S. military
Russia’s Phobos-Grunt spacecraft bound for Mars and stuck in an orbit around Earth will fall in southwestern Afghanistan on January 14, the U.S. Strategic Command said on Monday.
Phobos-Grunt, Russia's most ambitious planetary mission in decades, was launched on November 9 but it was lost due to propulsion failure and is expected to fall back to Earth next month.
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