The Next Mars Rover - 2009... Jan 18, 2006 20:22:38 GMT -6
Post by Chicago Astronomer Joe on Jan 18, 2006 20:22:38 GMT -6
Mars Science Laboratory: Big Wheels on A Red Planet
To be launched in December 2009, land on Mars in October 2010, and perform a 2-year science mission. This is a sophisticated lander-rover mission for advanced studies on the Martian surface. Will include new technologies: A small long-range, long-duration rover, powered by a small nuclear reactor, equipped to perform many scientific studies of Mars, and to demonstrate the technology for accurate landing and hazard avoidance in order to travel to difficult-to-reach sites.
The next wheels on the red planet will belong to the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL)—a huge step in how that planet is further poked, probed, and more fully plumbed for new information.
MSL is a huge chunk of machinery. At liftoff in September 2009, it will carry the largest, most advanced set of instruments for on-the-spot science duties ever dispatched to the martian surface. The nuclear-powered rover is being designed to assess whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment able to support microbial life.
The MSL mission, including cost of a launcher, is in the range of $1.5 billion, Cook said. Under consideration to boost the Mars Science Laboratory is either the Delta IV or the ATLAS V rocket.
The primary MSL launch/arrival period is scheduled to extend from September 15 through October 4, 2009. That equates to a rover arrival period at Mars starting on July 10, 2010 and lasting until September 22, 2010.
Once down on Mars in 2010, MSL is to demonstrate long-range mobility on the surface of the red planet of about 3 to 12 miles (5-20 kilometers) for accomplishing a range of exploration tasks.
There will be no doubling-up on Mars like Spirit and Opportunity. MSL is a single, go-it-alone rover tipping the scales at about 1,708 pounds (775 kilograms). And that’s where the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)—now outbound toward the red planet—will provide a big step up, Cook advised.
"We’re going to be able to learn much more from orbit. And I’m confident that in the end we’ll pick out the best MSL landing site. If you only have one to send, you send it to the best place you can on Mars," Cook said.
While the cruise to Mars, as well as descent onto the planet mirrors past missions, the landing part of MSL is new.
Mars Science Laboratory is to use precision landing techniques, steering itself toward the martian surface similar to the way the space shuttle controls its entry through the Earth’s upper atmosphere. In this way, the spacecraft would fly to a desired location above the surface of Mars before deploying its parachute for the final landing.
Given that capability, the plutonium-powered MSL will land within a 12-mile (20-kilometer) ellipse. NASA is also considering a solar power alternative for the rover that could meet the mission’s science and mobility objectives.
"It’s not the same mission with the solar arrays. It would have to be a conscious decision on NASA’s part to say we want to change the basic parameters of the mission," Cook said.
MSL’s arrival on Mars will not rely on airbags. "While airbags are certainly great they have certain limitations," Cook said, explaining that the future rover package is to be lowered onto Mars via an engine-firing "Sky Crane". This never-flown-before concept will lower the upright and ready-to-roll MSL on a tether to the surface.
MSL can chalk up several hundred meters of driving a day. While the rover is to be targeted to an initial, sure-to-be-safe touch down locale, its range can permit lengthy drives to exotic spots on Mars in terms of getting to varying types of geologic terrain.
Full story here: www.space.com/businesstechnology/060118_msl_wheels.html
MSL Website here: marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/missions/future/msl.html
Introducing radioactivity to Mars. Not too ecological, but let's see. And...no balloon landing, but instead a controlled decent by rockets. I don't know, but it's just something else vital than could go wrong. It is quite a heavy machine, and I'm no rocket scientist...so perhaps it's the way to go.
But, I hope it all works out... ;D