February 15th, 2017

Mars 2020: Could this be Red Planet round-trip?



Nearly 20 years after Pathfinder rolled onto an ancient Martian flood plain called Ares Vallis, NASA’s four Mars rovers have only covered about 38 miles of the Red Planet. That leaves plenty of territory for the next lander, Mars 2020, to explore.

At a conference last week, scientists determined three possible landing sites for the rover: Columbia Hills, Northeast Syrtis, and Jezero Crater. Orbital observations and previous rovers have found that the first two sites were likely once home to hot springs; Jezero Crater may have held a large lake.

“If you find where the liquid water was,” Bruce Betts, director of science and technology for the Planetary Society, tells The Christian Science Monitor, “if there were ever life on Mars, that would be a good place to look.”

This “follow the water” paradigm has guided NASA’s missions to Mars since the 1990s. The Mars 2020 mission, scheduled for launch in three years, continues this approach and adds a new goal: returning samples for Earth-based study.

December 27th, 2016

China Issues Space White Paper – Moon, Mars Goals



China’s Information Office of the State Council on December 27 released an expansive white paper on that country’s space activities in 2016, and projected looks at its space agenda in coming years.

In an associated press conference marking the release of the white paper, vice administrator of the China National Space Administration, Wu Yanhua, stated that China plans to develop a new generation of heavy-lift carrier rocket, the “Changzheng-9” or “Long March-9.”

That booster is intended for future manned lunar landing and deep space exploration missions, according to a report by

November 9th, 2016

Where Will President-Elect Trump Take American Space Endeavours?

Given the fiscal policies of his party, and his own stances on Climate Change, there is concern about how a Trump administration will affect NASA. Credit: Wikipedia Commons/Gage Skidmore

Given the fiscal policies of his party, and his own stances on Climate Change, there is concern about how a Trump administration will affect NASA. Credit: Wikipedia Commons/Gage Skidmore

With the 2016 election now finished and Donald Trump confirmed as the president-elect of the United States, there are naturally some concerns about what this could means for the future of NASA. Given the administration’s commitment to Earth science, and its plans for crewed missions to near-Earth Orbit and Mars, there is understandably some worry that the budget environment might be changing soon.

At this juncture, it is not quite clear how a Trump presidency will affect NASA’s mandate for space exploration and scientific research. But between statements made by the president-elect in the past, and his stances on issues like climate change, it seems clear that funding for certain types of research could be threatened. But there is also reason to believe that larger exploration programs might be unaffected.

October 13th, 2016

Retired basketball star Yao Ming takes on new mission as China’s ambassador to Mars

China has appointed retired basketball star Yao Ming and 10 other celebrities as “Ambassadors to Mars” to promote the nation’s first mission to Mars in 2020.

The 11 ambassadors will help publicise the Mars programme, encourage interest in science and technology among young Chinese people and also promote China’s international image.

The 2020 mission would be launched on a Long March-5 carrier rocket from the Wenchang space launch centre in southern China’s Hainan province, Xinhua reported.

September 20th, 2016

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover to produce oxygen on the Red Planet

Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment (MOXIE) is an exploration technology investigation that will produce oxygen from Martian atmospheric carbon dioxide. Image Credit: NASA

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will not only investigate the Red Planet, searching for evidence of past life on Mars, but also it is expected to lay the foundations for future human exploration of the planet. One of the mission’s instruments, called MOXIE, will have a special task – testing technology essential for Mars colonization.

“MOXIE is one of nine instruments, but it is the only one that is relevant to human exploration,” Donald Rapp, one of the co-investigators of MOXIE, told

MOXIE stands for the Mars OXygen In-situ resource utilization Experiment. With a diameter of 9.4 by 9.4 by 12.2 inches (23.9 cm × 23.9 cm × 30.9 cm), the instrument will produce oxygen from the Martian carbon dioxide atmosphere at a rate of about 0.35 ounces (10 grams) per hour. It is a 1:100 scale test model of a future instrument that would be efficient for human explorers on Mars.

“The object is not to produce a lot of oxygen. The object is to show that the process works on Mars. MOXIE produces only about 10 [grams] per hour of oxygen, less than one percent of full scale,” Rapp said.

January 7th, 2016

U.S. lab generates first space-grade plutonium sample since 1980s

File photo of a plutonium-238 pellet. Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory

For the first time in nearly 30 years, the U.S. Department of Energy has produced a sample of plutonium-238, the radioactive isotope used to power deep space missions, good news for future NASA space probes heading to destinations starved of sunlight.

The 50-gram (0.1-pound) sample is a fraction of the plutonium needed to fuel one spacecraft power generator, but the Energy Department said the material represents the first end-to-end demonstration of plutonium-238 production in the United States since 1988.

The DOE made the new batch of plutonium-238 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

November 3rd, 2015

Red Mars? Discovery of surface water spurs Chinese interest in lander

The gold coloured model, which is a third of the size of the actual probe, consists of an orbiter and a lander. (Photo: Long Wei, Asia News Photo)

Nearly two years ago, China became only the third country to make a soft landing on the moon when its Chang’e 3 spacecraft successfully deployed the Yutu rover. Now China appears increasingly set on doing the same thing on Mars.

This week at the 17th China International Industry Fair in Shanghai, the country’s Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation unveiled a model of a planned probe to Mars. Several Chinese news outlets have reported that the country’s space program continues to progress toward the launch of a robotic mission to Mars in 2020, including both an orbiting spacecraft as well as a lander.

China made an initial but unsuccessful attempt to reach Mars in November 2011 with its Yinghuo-1 spacecraft. However, that orbiter, a secondary payload on a Russian mission to the Mars moon of Phobos, was lost after the Russian Phobos-Grunt spacecraft failed to make the required number of burns to exit Earth orbit. Both the Russian and Chinese spacecraft eventually disintegrated over the Pacific Ocean as they fell through the atmosphere.

That failure dampened some of China’s enthusiasm for Mars, but NASA’s recent discovery of periodic, briny water flows on the red planet appears to have renewed the Chinese space agency’s interest.

August 20th, 2015

NASA to rely on Mars programme’s silent workhorse for years to come


NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, aging and arthritic a decade after its launch, remains productive and is expected to be the primary pipeline for high-resolution maps of Mars for scientists and mission planners over the next decade.

Scientists who want to study Mars’ enigmatic history, tenuous water cycle and climate will continue to rely on the nearly $900 million MRO mission, and engineers charged with selecting landing sites for future Mars rovers, and eventual human expeditions, will use maps created from the orbiter’s imagery, officials said.

And the success of future landers, beginning with NASA’s InSight seismic probe next year, depend in part on MRO’s availability to relay data from the Martian surface to Earth.

July 24th, 2015

A New Way to Prepare Samples of Mars for Return to the Earth Planetary Society

Mars 2020, NASA’s next and yet-to-be-named Mars rover, will be the first mission to collect and prepare samples of the martian surface for return to Earth. This process is known as caching, and it is the crucial first step of a fully-born sample return campaign that could define the next two decades of robotic Mars exploration. Recently, the Mars 2020 engineering team proposed a new caching strategy that differs from previous concepts in some interesting ways.

JPL calls this adaptive caching, but I like to think of it more as the cache depot strategy. This means that after coring samples and placing them into hermetically-sealed tubes (the same process for any sort of caching), the rover will then deposit groups of samples on the ground throughout its drive. A future rover would retrieve some or all of these samples, place them in a rocket, and launch them into Mars orbit.

November 10th, 2014

China unveils its Mars rover after India’s successful ‘Mangalyaan’ Time of India

Seeking to catch up with India’s Mangalyaan Mission, China has unveiled its Mars rover being developed to scurry the Red Planet’s surface for signs of water and life and plans to test it in the rugged terrain of Tibet.
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) has displayed the machine and the technological hardware set-up at an air show.
Photos of the rover’s prototype, to be displayed at the annual air show at Zhuai being attended by defence attaches of all countries including India, were carried by the state-run Xinhua news agency.