MarsNews.com
March 14th, 2019

Amidst Cuts to NASA, Mars Sample Return May Finally Happen

A high-level overview of NASA’s latest proposed Mars sample return mission.

The President’s budget request for NASA (released on 11 March) defies easy characterization. It includes many welcome proposals: $109 million for a new Mars Sample Return mission, an accelerated launch timeline for Europa Clipper, and funding increases for future human deep-space efforts, to name a few. Yet it also includes a frustrating litany of cuts previously and resoundingly rejected by Congress, attempting again to kill the WFIRST space telescope, multiple Earth Science missions, and the entirety of NASA’s Education/STEM outreach division.

The budget request does contain significant increases for the Administration’s lunar initiative, primarily for the Lunar Gateway project, which would grow from $450 million to $820 million. The Administration proposes additional increases for technology development related to lunar exploration and deep space habitability, though success in these efforts will depend on maintaining growth and controlling program costs in subsequent years.

March 6th, 2019

Researchers Outline Goals for Collecting and Studying Samples from Mars

Image Credit: Thomas Rafalzyk (for European Space Agency) – 2nd International Mars Sample Return conference, Berlin, April 25 – 27, 2018

Returning samples from the surface of Mars has been a high-priority goal of the international Mars exploration community for many years. Although randomly collected samples would be potentially interesting, they would not be sufficient to answer the big questions that have motivated Mars exploration for decades. A new paper published in Meteoritics & Planetary Science describes the results of a major collaboration among 71 scientists from throughout the international science community to define specific scientific objectives for a Mars Sample Return campaign, to describe the critical measurements that would need to be done on returned samples to address the objectives, and to identify the kinds of samples that would be most likely to carry the key information.

The study was sponsored by the International Mars Exploration Working Group. The authors note that the seven proposed objectives provide a framework for demonstrating how the first set of returned Martian samples would impact future Martian science and exploration.

December 3rd, 2018

Five planned missions to Mars

An artist’s impression of SpaceX’s Starship and Super Heavy Rocket. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Space agencies around the world are set to explore the red planet, while Elon Musk has even grander plans.

October 5th, 2018

MASCOT 2.0? Mars Moon Rover to Fly on Japanese Mission to Phobos in 2024

An artist’s illustration of Japan’s Mars Moons Exploration (MMX) spacecraft at the small Martian satellite Phobos.
Credit: JAXA/NASA

The hopping asteroid lander MASCOT may be dead, but its bloodline will live on — and get to explore the Mars system a few years from now.

A rover will be incorporated into Japan’s Martian Moons Exploration (MMX) sample-return mission, which is scheduled to launch in 2024, Japanese, German and French space officials announced Wednesday (Oct. 3).

Like MASCOT, which explored the 3,000-foot-wide (900 meters) asteroid Ryugu for 17 hours this week, the new robot will be built by the German Aerospace Center, known by its German acronym DLR, in collaboration with the French space agency, CNES.

MMX aims to return a sample of the 14-mile-wide (22 kilometers) Mars moon Phobos to Earth in 2029. The newly announced rover will facilitate that work and also collect some important data of its own.

September 7th, 2018

British scientists launch daring space mission to bring back samples of Martian soil

Alastair Wayman with the Mars rover at Airbus in Stevenage, Herts CREDIT: EDDIE MULHOLLAND FOR THE TELEGRAPH

British scientists are launching a daring mission to Mars to bring back samples of Martian soil which could prove that life once existed on the Red Planet.

In 2020, Nasa’s new rover will land on Mars and begin drilling down into the surface for core samples.

But it is experts at Airbus in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, who have been tasked with getting the precious cargo back to Earth.

The team is currently designing a second rover which will launch in 2026 to collect Nasa’s samples, load them onto a rocket and fire them up into orbit to be collected by a spacecraft and brought home.

August 9th, 2018

Report: NASA Needs to Get Moving on Its Plan to Snatch Some Mars Dust

Illustration of the Solar System.
Illustration: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA doesn’t just randomly decide what telescopes and satellites to shoot into space and what planet to study next. Instead, a committee of outside scientists drafts a set of goals and recommendations in what’s called a decadal survey. And though it notes some financial setbacks, a midterm review of the last decadal survey report says NASA has done a pretty good job hitting the goals set by the 2013-2022 Planetary Science survey. But there’s work left to do, especially when it comes to bringing a sample of Martian dust to Earth.

The National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday released a midterm assessment of NASA’s progress on meeting the planetary science community’s goals for 2013 to 2022. According to the report, NASA has more or less met or exceeded the committee’s recommendations—but it hasn’t adhered to the recommended timeline for developing some discovery missions.

July 10th, 2018

ESA awards Mars sample return study contracts as international cooperation plans take shape

ESA is studying a rover that would fetch samples for launch on a NASA-built Mars Ascent Vehicle (above), as well as an orbiter that would capture the sample container for return to Earth. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The European Space Agency awarded two contracts to Airbus to study elements of a Mars sample return approach as the outlines of international cooperation with NASA on that effort materialize.

Airbus announced July 6 that it received two study contracts from ESA regarding Mars sample return mission concepts. Those studies include a rover to collect samples and an orbiter to return those samples to Earth.

The Mars Sample Fetch Rover, as conceived by ESA, would launch to Mars in 2026 on a NASA lander mission. It would use a robotic arm to gather samples cached by NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission, returning those samples to the lander and loading them into a NASA-provided rocket known as a Mars Ascent Vehicle that will launch them into Mars orbit.

The Earth Return Orbiter would rendezvous with the sample contained in Mars orbit. The orbiter would place the sample inside a biocontainment system in a reentry capsule for return to Earth by the end of the 2020s.

February 13th, 2018

Piece of Mars is Going Home

A slice of a meteorite scientists have determined came from Mars placed inside an oxygen plasma cleaner, which removes organics from the outside of surfaces. This slice will likely be used here on Earth for testing a laser instrument for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover; a separate slice will go to Mars on the rover.

A chunk of Mars will soon be returning home.

A piece of a meteorite called Sayh al Uhaymir 008 (SaU008) will be carried on board NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission, now being built at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. This chunk will serve as target practice for a high-precision laser on the rover’s arm.

Mars 2020’s goal is ambitious: collect samples from the Red Planet’s surface that a future mission could potentially return to Earth. One of the rover’s many tools will be a laser designed to illuminate rock features as fine as a human hair.

That level of precision requires a calibration target to help tweak the laser’s settings. Previous NASA rovers have included calibration targets as well. Depending on the instrument, the target material can include things like rock, metal or glass, and can often look like a painter’s palette.

But working on this particular instrument sparked an idea among JPL scientists: why not use an actual piece of Mars? Earth has a limited supply of Martian meteorites, which scientists determined were blasted off Mars’ surface millions of years ago.

These meteorites aren’t as unique as the geologically diverse samples 2020 will collect. But they’re still scientifically interesting — and perfect for target practice.

May 3rd, 2017

Japanese space agency’s mission aims to uncover how moons of Mars formed

2017-05-03 11_40_56-MMX - Martian Moons eXploration

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) has announced a mission to visit the two moons of Mars and return a rock sample to Earth. It’s a plan to uncover both the mystery of the moons’ creation and, perhaps, how life began in our Solar System.

The Solar System’s planets take their names from ancient Greek and Roman mythology. Mars is the god of war, while the red planet’s two moons are named for the deity’s twin sons: Deimos (meaning panic) and Phobos (fear).

Unlike our own Moon, Phobos and Deimos are tiny. Phobos has an average diameter of 22.2km, while Deimos measures an even smaller 13km. Neither moon is on a stable orbit, with Deimos slowly moving away from Mars while Phobos will hit the Martian surface in around 20 million years.

The small size of the two satellites makes their gravity too weak to pull the moons in spheres. Instead, the pair have the irregular, lumpy structure of asteroids. This has led to a major question about their formation: were these moons formed from Mars or are they actually captured asteroids?

The excitement for a Mars moon mission has led to strong international involvement in MMX. On April 10, JAXA president Naoki Okumura met his counterpart from France’s Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), Jean-Yves Le Gall.

The meeting cemented a collaboration between the two space agencies. CNES will provide an instrument for MMX as well as combining expertise on flight dynamics for the tricky encounter with the Martian moons.

March 24th, 2017

‘Life’ horror movie sparks reality check on procedures for studying Mars samples

Rebecca Ferguson plays Miranda North, a planetary protection officer aboard the International Space Station, in the movie “Life.” (Sony Pictures Digital Productions)

Rebecca Ferguson plays Miranda North, a planetary protection officer aboard the International Space Station, in the movie “Life.” (Sony Pictures Digital Productions)

Spoiler Alert! This article doesn’t reveal any major plot twists, but wait to read it if you’re trying to stay totally in the dark about the plot of the movie “Life.”

Let sleeping Martians lie, particularly if they have a strong grip: That’s one of the lessons you could take away from “Life,” the first monster movie set on the International Space Station.

The movie – which opens today and stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds – blends the gory horror of “Alien” with the harrowing suspense of “Gravity.” It’s a tour de force of simulated zero-G acrobatics (done mostly with ropes and wires). And it’s an orbital illustration of Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong with having an alien on board does go wrong.

Purists may have questions about just how wrong it goes. Could a minuscule life form brought back from Mars really get that big that quickly? Is it really possible to combine neural, muscular and sensory functions in one cell? And just how easy is it for things to come loose (or get loose) on the space station?

The deepest question may well be, does this nightmare have any chance of happening in real life?