MarsNews.com
February 21st, 2020

Japan will launch the first-ever sample return mission from the Martian system

Mission to travel to Mars and survey the red planet’s two moons; Phobos and Deimos.
The spacecraft will explore both moons and collect a sample from one of the moons to bring back to Earth.

JAXA, Japan’s national space agency, has just approved a robotic mission to visit the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos and retrieve a small sample from the former to bring back to Earth.

The mission plan: It’s called Martian Moon eXploration, or MMX. JAXA currently plans to launch MMX in 2024 and make it to the Martian system the following year. MMX will spend three years in the system studying and mapping the moons. The mission will make use of 11 different instruments, including a NASA-funded instrument called MEGAE that will measure the elemental composition of both bodies (perhaps revealing signs of ancient water).

The mission will also deploy a small rover to zip around the surface of Phobos, not unlike what JAXA’s Hayabusa2 mission deployed on the surface of the asteroid Ryugu.

Bringing home the Phobos dust: This is the mission’s marquee event. The four-legged MMX will attempt to land on Phobos and scoop up at least 10 grams of material from the surface, using a geological core sampler that can dig at least two centimeters deep.

It may seem a long way to travel to come back with such a tiny piece of the Martian system, but it’s actually a hundred times more material than Hayabusa2 is bringing back from Ryugu. If MMX is successful, it will return to Earth in 2029, completing the first round-trip mission to Mars and back.

February 18th, 2020

From Dubai to Mars, With Stops in Colorado and Japan

The Hope robotic probe in Colorado. The ruler of Dubai wanted to offer inspiration for youth in the wider Arab world. “That’s why he called the spacecraft Hope,” said Omran Sharaf, the mission’s project manager.

In December, a spacecraft named Hope was motionless in the middle of a large clean room on the campus of the University of Colorado, mounted securely on a stand.

But engineers were tricking Hope — a foil-wrapped box about the size and weight of a Mini Cooper — into thinking it was speeding at more than 10,000 miles per hour as it pulled into orbit at Mars. It was a simulation to make sure that the guidance, navigation and control systems would respond correctly to a variety of less-than-perfect circumstances when it arrives at Mars for real next year.

While this spacecraft was assembled on American soil, it will not be exploring the red planet for NASA. Hope is instead an effort by the United Arab Emirates, an oil-rich country smaller than the state of Maine and one that has never sent anything out into the solar system.

February 17th, 2020

Set your alarm: Moon, Mars and Earth to align before dawn on Tuesday

An eclipse-like event will cause Mars to vanish from the sky over North America early Tuesday morning in a rare event known to astronomers as a lunar occultation.

Similar to an eclipse when the Earth, moon and sun fall in line, during an occultation, the Earth, moon and a planet align. As a result, the Red Planet will be hidden from sight as it appears to pass directly behind the moon during Tuesday’s event.

“A lunar occultation involving a planet is a rare event,” AccuWeather Astronomy Blogger Dave Samuhel said. “There are only a few per decade as seen from any given spot on the globe.”

People do not need a telescope to see the event as the moon and Mars are both bright enough to see with the unaided eye, but knowing when to look will be extremely important — as will the weather conditions.

February 12th, 2020

NASA Will Soon Use ‘Space Lasers’ To Give Us Live Video From Mars And The Moon

Deep space communications via laser could increase spacecraft communications performance and efficiency by 10 to 100 times over conventional means. NASA/JPL-CALTECH

Ever since its inception, NASA has used radio waves to send and receive data, which are very dependable, but slow. In fact, it’s rare for any spacecraft to send back images at more than a couple of megabits per second (Mbps). That’s virtually dial-up speed, and it seriously hampers the exchange of real-time scientific data.

There are three complexes in the DSN, each placed 120º from each other; California, Madrid in Spain and Canberra in Australia.

Goldstone’s new antenna will include some capability to test optical communications and, specifically, a new technology NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is working on called Deep Space Optical Communication (DSOC).

“Space lasers” will be critical for Mars missions; the astronauts on Mars will communicate with Earth far more than the robotic missions currently do, and NASA will need real-time data on life support systems and equipment on any Mars base.

However, you won’t be able to see them; the lasers will be in the near-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

February 11th, 2020

The Journey to Mars Begins in South Texas

Loren Elliott / HECTOR MATA / Getty / Arsh Raziuddin / The Atlantic

Boca Chica’s residents have learned to live with a rocket company, or at least tolerate it, over more than five years. But SpaceX’s work is about to become even more disruptive. So the company has offered to buy their homes. Some have taken the offer. Others, such as McConnaughey, have rejected it, even as Musk prepares to launch a giant rocketship just a short hop from their houses. SpaceX is already hard at work on the next Starship prototype, and Musk says the company might launch it into orbit as soon as this year. “We love Texas,” James Gleeson, a SpaceX spokesperson, said in a statement, “and believe we are entering a new and exciting era in space exploration.”

Few people in this part of South Texas could have predicted the recent trajectory of their life when SpaceX moved in. They have become space fanatics and legal experts, Musk supporters and thorns in his side, trying to make sense of their place in a strange story that could someday end millions of miles away from Earth. All because they got new neighbors.

February 10th, 2020

Trump calls for $25 billion NASA budget for 2021 to boost moon and Mars goals

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine discusses the fiscal year 2021 budget proposal during a State of NASA address, Monday, Feb. 10, 2020, at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.
Credits: NASA/Joel Kowsky

President Donald Trump wants to raise NASA’s budget to $25.2 billion for the fiscal year beginning in October, an increase of 12% over the current year’s funding.

Nearly half of that total would fund activities directed toward getting humans first to the moon, then to Mars. The budget request includes $3.3 billion for human lunar landers, part of NASA’s Artemis program that aims for a lunar landing in 2024. The new documents also cut several long-targeted programs and introduce a new mission that would study ice on Mars.

These details come from materials released today (Feb. 10) by NASA and the White House Office of Management and Budget. The materials are part of the administration’s overall budget request, an annual submission to Congress that lays out the president’s vision for the federal government and begins the budgeting process. NASA’s full materials packet is available here.

“This is a 21-century budget worthy of 21st-century space exploration and one of the strongest NASA budgets in history,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a State of NASA event unveiling the budget. “If the president’s support for NASA wasn’t clear before, it sure is now.” Under Trump, NASA’s annual budget has increased from about $19 billion during his first year to $22 billion for the fiscal year that began in October, according to The Washington Post.

February 7th, 2020

Trump touts Space Force, moon and Mars plans in State of the Union address

President Donald Trump speaks during his State of the Union address on Feb. 4, 2020. (Image credit: WhiteHouse.gov)

Space exploration got a couple of shout-outs in President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address Tuesday night (Feb. 4).

During the nearly 80-minute speech, Trump touted the recent establishment of the Space Force — the first new U.S. military branch to be stood up since the Air Force in 1947 — as one of his administration’s key accomplishments thus far.

“In the gallery tonight, we have a young gentleman,” Trump said. “And what he wants so badly — 13 years old — Iain Lanphier, he is an eighth-grader from Arizona. Iain, please stand up. Iain has always dreamed of going to space. He was the first in his class and among the youngest at an aviation academy. He aspires to go to the Air Force Academy, and then he has his eye on the Space Force. As Iain says, ‘Most people look up at space; I want to look down on the world.'”

We’ll soon see what kind of funding he has in mind; the White House is expected to unveil its 2021 federal budget request on Monday (Feb. 10).

February 4th, 2020

Weird clumps of air that disrupt radio signals found on Mars

NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft has found signs of layers and rifts in the Martian atmosphere
NASA

Earth’s upper atmosphere has strange dense layers of ions that are constantly appearing and disappearing and which can hamper radio communication. Now, the same thing has now been found on Mars, offering a new chance to crack understand this poorly studied phenomenon.

The ionosphere is the layer of the atmosphere about 60 to 1000 kilometres up that is full of charged particles. When those particles are temporarily blown into clumps by the wind, they form what researchers call sporadic E layers in the lower reaches of the ionosphere.

“They act like a mirror in the sky, and radio signals bounce off of them,” says Glyn Collinson at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. “When you turn on your favourite radio station and it’s jammed by another station, you have probably been the victim of a sporadic E layer.”

They don’t just interfere with commercial radio stations, though – they can also block radar signals that are used to detect aircraft and ballistic missiles, he says.

E layers are difficult to study on Earth, because they appear and disappear unpredictably and they are at an altitude that is too high for aircraft to reach and too low for satellite orbits. But Collinson and his colleagues have spotted them in the Martian atmosphere for the first time, where they might be far easier to study.

The team found signs of 34 E layers in data from NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft. The layers form higher in the Martian atmosphere, so MAVEN is flying right through them and they are probably too high to interfere with any future radio communications on the ground, Collinson says.

January 31st, 2020

Mars Desert Research Station Hosting Historic Dual Habitat Simulation

The Mars Society’s MDRS – Mars Desert Research Station, the world’s largest and longest-running Mars analog program, welcomed a special Mars Academy USA (MAU) crew to its campus last week to begin an historic dual habitat simulation lasting two weeks.

During this mission, one crew is operating at MDRS, while a second crew works out of the MAU habitat, which consists of a series of interlocking geometric tents that house crew quarters and a research area. The crew is made up of medical professionals who are testing how two teams on the same planet would collaborate on emergency medical procedures.

Located in southern Utah, MDRS serves as a home base for crews participating in Mars surface simulation testing and training. Depending on the individual crew’s specialization, its scientific focus ranges from geology to engineering, communications to human factors, robotics to microbiology. A wide variety of scientific and engineering research and educational outreach are typically conducted by crews at MDRS.

January 30th, 2020

Mystery at Mars’s Pole Explained

31 May 2005
This picture is a composite of Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC) daily global images acquired at Ls 211° during a previous Mars year. This month, Mars looks similar, as Ls 211° occurred in mid-May 2005. The picture shows the south polar region of Mars. Over the course of the month, additional faces of Mars as it appears at this time of year are being posted for MOC Picture of the Day. Ls, solar longitude, is a measure of the time of year on Mars. Mars travels 360° around the Sun in 1 Mars year. The year begins at Ls 0°, the start of northern spring and southern autumn.

Season: Northern Autumn/Southern Spring

A new study from Caltech suggests that the theory, developed by physicist Robert B. Leighton (BS ’41, MS ’44, PhD ’47) and planetary scientist Bruce C. Murray, may indeed be correct.

Carbon dioxide makes up more than 95 percent of Mars’s atmosphere, which has a surface pressure of only 0.6 percent that of Earth. One prediction of Leighton’s and Murray’s theory—with enormous implications for climate change on Mars—is that its atmospheric pressure would swing in value as the planet wobbles on its axis during its orbit around the sun, exposing the poles to more or less sunlight. Direct sunlight on the CO2 ice deposited at the poles leads to its sublimation (the direct transition of a material from a solid to a gaseous state). Leighton and Murray predicted that, as exposure to sunlight shifts, atmospheric pressure could swing from just one-quarter that of today’s Martian atmosphere to twice that of today over cycles of tens of thousands of years.

Now, a new model by Peter Buhler (PhD ’18) of JPL, which Caltech manages for NASA, and colleagues from Caltech, JPL, and the University of Colorado, provides key evidence to support this. The model was described in a paper published in the journal Nature Astronomy on December 23.

The team explored the existence of a mysterious feature at the south pole of Mars: a massive deposit of CO2 ice and water ice in alternating strata, like the layers of a cake, that extend to a depth of 1 kilometer, with a thin frosting of CO2 ice at the top. The layer-cake deposit contains as much CO2 as in the entire Martian atmosphere today.