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Mars Smart Lander Mission... A Roving Mobile Science Laboratory in 2009 SERIES OF MARS SCOUTING MISSIONS »
NASA plans to launch in December 2009 its Mars Science Laboratory, a long-range, long-duration roving science laboratory that would be a major leap forward in surface measurements and pave the way for a soil and rock sample return mission in 2014 or 2016.
Click to enlarge this NASA/JPL artist concept.
NASA's 2009 rover will be twice as long and three times as heavy as its two famous Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, that arrived on Mars in January 2004.
ABOUT THE ROVERS SPIRIT AND OPPORTUNITY »
Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) will collect Martian soil samples and rock cores and analyze them for organic compounds and environmental conditions that may support microbial life now or may have supported it in the past.
Precision landing. Mars Science Laboratory would arrive on the Martian surface in October 2010.
NASA plans to select that landing site beginning in 2006 from highly detailed images sent to Earth by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Smart landers like MSL need accurate landing and hazard avoidance systems to reach promising, difficult-to-reach science locations.
Mars Science Laboratory will be the first interplanetary probe to use precision landing techniques. The lander will steer itself down to the surface in the same way a space shuttle controls its entry through the upper atmosphere to land on Earth.
The spacecraft would fly to a planned location above the surface of Mars and then deploy a parachute for the final touchdown. In the final moments before touchdown, the parachute and retrorockets would lower the rover to the surface on a tether – much like the way a skycrane helicopter moves a large object.
Such a landing would put the rover down on Mars in a target area 12 to 24 miles long, about the size of a small crater or wide canyon and three to five times smaller than previous landing zones on Mars.
The rover. Like the twin Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, MSL would have six wheels and cameras mounted on a mast.
ABOUT THE ROVERS SPIRIT AND OPPORTUNITY »
However, unlike the twin rovers, Mars Science Laboratory would have a laser for vaporizing a thin layer from the surface of a rock and analyzing the elemental composition of the underlying materials. It would be able to collect and crush rock and soil samples and perform chemical analysis in on-board chambers.
MSL would have a suite of science instruments to identify organic compounds such as proteins, amino acids, and other acids and bases that attach themselves to carbon backbones and are essential to life. It also could identify atmospheric gases associated with biological activity.
Mars Science Laboratory would examine Martian rocks and soils in greater detail than ever before to determine the geologic processes that formed them. It would study the Martian atmosphere as well as determine the distribution and circulation of water and carbon dioxide, whether frozen, liquid, or gaseous.
Science instruments. The science instruments are international in origin, with a neutron-based hydrogen detector for locating water provided by the Russian Federal Space Agency, a meteorological package provided by the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science, and a spectrometer provided by the Canadian Space Agency with participation by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany.
The Mars Science Laboratory instruments and cameras would include:
Electrical power. The rover and its instruments would be powered by a radioisotope electricity generator. That power source would allow the rover to move around at higher and lower latitudes than could be traveled by a similar rover with only solar battery power.
- a mast camera
- a laser remote sensor for chemical analysis and micro-imaging
- a hand lens imager
- an alpha particle X-ray spectrometer
- an X-ray diffraction and fluorescence instrument
- a radiation detector
- a descent imager
- a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer
- a tunable laser spectrometer
- a pulsed neutron source and detector
- a meteorological package with ultraviolet sensor