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Sunday, January 9, 2005

NASA Mars Science Laboratory to Coincide With ESA, Russia

Artist's conception of the Mars Science Laboratory.
Artist's conception of the Mars Science Laboratory.
Credit: NASA/JPL
NASA has announced that its next rover on Mars, the Mars Science Laboratory, will launch in 2009 and arrive in 2010. This coincides closely with NASA's Mars Telecommunications Orbiter, the ESA's ExoMars rover and Russia's Phobos probe. This is largely due to both the increased interest in Mars as well as the limited launch windows available (approximately every 2 years) to get to Mars at a low cost. All of the missions on Mars are expected to communicate with each other and the Earth through an "interplanetary internet" system facilitated by the Mars Telecommunications Orbiter and the older orbiters, which will relay messages to the Deep Space Network. Although there are concerns over an extreme bandwidth problem, as the data coming in exceeds the ability of the world's space agencies to handle, there is much hope that the problem will be overcome by the Mars Telecommunications Orbiter and new tracking stations coming online.

The Mars Science Laboratory will probably be the most capable mission ever launched. It will be much larger than even the MERs, and will be powered by a radioisotope generator, which will allow it to last much, much longer than any previous rover and allow it much greater choice in landing sites, as it will no longer be contrained in latitude by solar power concerns. Even more incredibly, it will attempt a controlled descent to the surface, and will try to choose its landing site with unparalleled accuracy. No more bouncing across the rocky plains, hoping that a rock won't puncture the airbags. The rover will be expressly designed to ferret out signs of life, containing instrumentation that can detect hydrocarbons and other complex molecules that may signify life, as well as tools to examine the water cycle on Mars and other related areas.

(More info: New Kerala, JPL)

- posted by Brian @ 18:29 EST