NASA, ESA and a Trip to Mars
NASA Selects Future Projects To Study Mars And Mercury
Artist’s conception of the European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover, which will search for signs of life on Mars.
NASA has selected two science investigations that will aid in the interior examination of Mars and probe the tenuous atmosphere of Mercury. The projects, valued at approximately $38 million, also establish new alliances with the European Space Agency, or ESA.
"The selections will further advance our knowledge of these exciting terrestrial planets," said Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The international collaboration will create a new chapter in planetary science and provide a strong partnership with the international science community to complement future robotic and human exploration activities."
The Lander Radio-Science on ExoMars, or LaRa, will use NASA’s Deep Space Network of radio telescopes to track part of ESA’s ExoMars mission. Scheduled to launch in 2016, the mission consists of a fixed lander and a rover that will roam Mars collecting soil samples for detailed analysis. ExoMars will help astrobiologists determine if Mars is or once was a planet capable of supporting life.
This image is a close-up of the martian ground obtained by NASA’s Phoenix lander. ExoMars will use the lab-on-a-chip to analyze the martian soil for biological signatures.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona
Data relayed from the lander back to the network will allow scientists to measure and analyze variations in the length of the day and location of the planet’s rotational axis. This data will help researchers further dissect the structure of the Red Planet’s interior, including the size of its core. When combined with the lander’s onboard instruments, the data also may help confirm whether the planet’s interior is still, at least partially, composed of liquid. William Folkner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is the principal investigator. The project costs approximately $6.6 million.
The second selection, named Strofio, will employ a unique mass spectrometer. The instrument will determine the mass of atoms and molecules to reveal the composition of Mercury’s atmosphere. The investigation will study the atmosphere, which is formed from material ejected from its surface, to reveal the composition of Mercury’s surface.
Strofio will investigate Mercury as a key component of the Italian Space Agency’s suite of science instruments that will fly aboard ESA’s BepiColombo mission. Scheduled for launch in 2013, the mission is composed of two spacecraft. Japan will build one spacecraft to study the planet’s magnetic field. ESA will build the other to study Mercury directly. Stefano Livi of the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio is the principal investigator. The project costs approximately $31.8 million.
NASA’s Strofio instrument on ESA’s BepiColombo mission will use a unique mass spectrometer to study the composition of Mercury’s atmosphere. Mercury is the planet nearest the Sun and its mass is just 5-1/2 percent that of Earth.
The selections were among eight proposals submitted in December 2008 in response to NASA’s new Stand Alone Mission of Opportunity, known as Salmon. NASA solicited proposals for investigations that address planetary science research objectives on non-agency missions. A key criterion is that science goals, including data archiving and analysis, must be accomplished for less than $35 million.
NASA’s Deep Space Network is an international system of antennas that support interplanetary spacecraft missions and radio and radar astronomy observations for the exploration of the solar system and the universe. The network also supports selected Earth-orbiting missions. The system consists of three deep-space communications facilities placed around the world in California’s Mojave Desert; Madrid, Spain; and near Canberra, Australia. This strategic placement permits constant observation of spacecraft as Earth rotates and helps to make the network the largest and most sensitive scientific telecommunications system in the world.
NASA’s Planetary Science Division aims to improve understanding of the planets and small bodies that inhabit our solar system. Mission activities include helping scientists answer questions about the solar system’s formation, how it reached its current diverse state, and how life evolved on Earth and possibly elsewhere in the solar system. The Mars Exploration Program, a component of the Planetary Division, seeks to characterize and understand Mars as a dynamic system, including its present and past environment, climate cycles, geology and biological potential.
For more information about the Stand Alone Mission of Opportunity, visit: