MarsNews.com
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?

February 15th, 2017

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

NASA/AP

NASA/AP

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

CCTV/China Spaceflight.com

CCTV/China Spaceflight.com

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 CRIENGLISH.com.

December 13th, 2016

Trump could replace Obama’s asteroid catcher with a SpaceX-backed mission to Mars

Getty Images/Shutterstock/NASA; illustration by Dave Mosher/Business Insider

Getty Images/Shutterstock/NASA; illustration by Dave Mosher/Business Insider

When Donald Trump is sworn in on January 20, there’s a good chance he could scrap one of President Obama’s boldest visions for NASA: the asteroid redirect mission, or ARM.

ARM would ostensibly launch a robotic probe to an asteroid in 2023, capture the space rock, and tow it near the moon. Next, astronauts would ride NASA’s shiny new Space Launch System and Orion space capsule (which aren’t finished yet) to visit and dig into the asteroid sometime in 2025.

But ARM’s slipping deadlines, ballooning costs, redundancy with the recently launched asteroid-sampling OSIRIS-REx probe, and seeming incongruence with the space agency’s larger ambitions to send people to Mars will almost certainly doom the mission, Eric Berger reported for Ars Technica in February. (The Trump-friendly House Committee on Science, Space and Technology also recently sent an unfriendly letter about ARM to NASA, and it appears to be yet another presumed nail in ARM’s coffin.)

So what could a Trump-controlled NASA replace it with?

Physicist and former astronaut John Grunsfeld, who recently retired as the leader of NASA’s science mission directorate, is pitching a popular idea involving a retrieving a sample of Martian soil, as Berger reported on Monday.

September 28th, 2016

Mars awaits: Sydney rocket scientist to test ion drive in space University of Sydney

Return trips to Mars without refuelling could be a step closer, the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico heard today – because of world-leading research from the University of Sydney and the entrepreneurialism of a former student now set to test his invention in space.

The announcement comes weeks after research reporting a world record specific impulse – a measure of thrust efficiency, like miles per gallon – was published by a graduate and two professors at the University of Sydney.

The rocket engine is being commercially developed by Neumann Space, the company set up by Dr Patrick Neumann after the completion of his PhD. Dr Neumann, who was part of an international announcement by Airbus Defence & Space today at the congress taking place in Guadalajara, Mexico, sent a statement about the invention.

June 20th, 2016

Jeff Bezos: The government should offer “a very large prize to whoever first brings back some Mars samples” University of Sydney

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is no longer the highly funded juggernaut that it was in the 1960s, and these days private companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are becoming more and more important in the development of spacefaring technology.

According to Bezos, this can actually be a good thing for the future of space travel and research, and during a recent on-stage interview during the John H. Glenn Lecture in Space History at the National Air and Space Museum, Bezos said that the government could do more to encourage a private space race for a potential mission to Mars.

Specifically, Bezos said that one possible method the government should consider is to offer a substantial prize for certain milestones.

“I think big prizes would be an interesting thing to do,” Bezos said during his interview. “… One thing that the government could do is just offer a very large prize to whoever first brings back some Mars samples. It would be very interesting. That kind of horse race would create lots of attention. People would compete for it.”

September 15th, 2015

Project ‘Red Dragon’: Mars Sample-Return Mission Could Launch in 2022 with SpaceX Capsule University of Sydney

red-dragon-mission-concept

Scientists have blueprinted a low-cost Mars sample-return mission that would use a souped-up Dragon capsule from the private spacefligth company SpaceX and the firm’s planned Falcon Heavy rocket to get to the Red Planet by the early 2020s.

The new study demonstrates the viability of the entry, descent and landing of the unmanned Dragon space capsule at Mars. Moreover, the spacecraft’s descent technique would help set the stage for future human missions to the Red Planet, researchers said.

The idea is to leverage emerging commercial capabilities to achieve Mars sample-return (MSR) without breaking the bank, perhaps in 2022. Most scientists regard a sample-return trip as a “Holy Grail” mission — the best way to look for signs of past or present life on the Red Planet.

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.

January 8th, 2015

Are there fossils on Mars? The Christian Science Monitor

A careful study of images taken by the NASA rover Curiosity has revealed intriguing similarities between ancient sedimentary rocks on Mars and structures shaped by microbes on Earth. The findings suggest, but do not prove, that life may have existed earlier on the Red Planet.
The photos were taken as the Mars rover Curiosity drove through the Gillespie Lake outcrop in Yellowknife Bay, a dry lakebed that underwent seasonal flooding billions of years ago. Mars and Earth shared a similar early history. The Red Planet was a much warmer and wetter world back then.
On Earth, carpet-like colonies of microbes trap and rearrange sediments in shallow bodies of water such as lakes and coastal areas, forming distinctive features that fossilize over time. These structures, known asmicrobially-induced sedimentary structures (or MISS), are found in shallow water settings all over the world and in ancient rocks spanning Earth’s history.