Senate Appropriations Committee Sticks a Fork in NASA’s 2024 Moon Landing Plan

Artemis Gateway (Credit: Thales Alenia Space/Briot)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

It looks as if the Trump Administration’s goal of landing astronauts on the moon in 2024 is expiring at about the same time as the administration itself. The fatal blow is being struck by Congress, not the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has released a fiscal year 2021 funding bill that includes $1 billion for NASA to Human Landing System (HLS) that will take astronauts to and from the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program. The amount is far short of the $3.2 billion that NASA has said is needed for HLS to keep the 2024 landing on schedule.

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Airbus to Bring First Mars Samples to Earth: ESA Contract Award

ERO will reach Mars orbit, capture orbiting samples launched from the Red Planet and bring them back to Earth. (Credit: Airbus)
  • A new decade of European exploration – to the Moon and Mars
  • Airbus to design and build the Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) for Mars Sample Return (MSR) campaign
  • ERO will reach Mars orbit, capture orbiting samples launched from the Red Planet and bring them back to Earth

TOULOUSE, 14 October 2020 (Airbus PR) – Airbus has been selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) as prime contractor for the Mars Sample Return’s Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) – the first ever spacecraft to bring samples back to Earth from Mars. Mars Sample Return (MSR) is a joint ESA-NASA campaign and the next step in the exploration of Mars. ERO and the Sample Fetch Rover (SFR) are the two main European elements of MSR, both are set to be designed and built by Airbus.

A manipulating arm, referred to as the Sample Transfer Arm (STA), that will transfer the samples from the SFR to the Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV), is the third European contribution to the MSR program. The value of the ERO contract is €491 million [$574.8 million].

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How do we get There from Here? With Suborbital Flight Testing

Image shows Trona Pinnacles near California’s NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center during Jan. 31 Super Blue Blood Moon. Trona Pinnacles is an unusual geological feature of the state’s Desert National Conservation. (Credits: NASA / Lauren Hughes)

EDWARDS, Calif. (NASA PR) — Standing here on Earth, on a clear night we can look to the sky and see the destination for NASA’s Artemis program: the Moon. Seemingly close, but still quite far. Yet the space between us and that source of fascination is ripe with possibilities for helping mature the technologies we will need to get there, stay there, and venture beyond to Mars.

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Deep Learning Will Help Future Mars Rovers Go Farther, Faster, and Do More Science

The Machine Learning-based Analytics for Autonomous Rover Systems (MAARS) program encompasses a range of areas where artificial intelligence could be useful. The team presented results of the MAARS project at IEEE Aerospace Conference in March 2020. The project was a finalist for the NASA Software Award. (Credit: TACC)

NASA JPL team uses TACC’s Maverick2 system to develop software, train models.

AUSTIN, Texas (Texas Advance Computing Center PR) — NASA’s Mars rovers have been one of the great scientific and space successes of the past two decades.

Four generations of rovers have traversed the red planet gathering scientific data, sending back evocative photographs, and surviving incredibly harsh conditions — all using on-board computers less powerful than an iPhone 1. The latest rover, Perseverance, was launched on July 30, 2020, and engineers are already dreaming of a future generation of rovers.

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Franco-American SuperCam on Way to Mars Aboard Perseverance Rover

A close-up of the head of Mars Perseverance’s remote sensing mast. The mast head contains the SuperCam instrument (its lens is in the large circular opening). In the gray boxes beneath mast head are the two Mastcam-Z imagers. On the exterior sides of those imagers are the rover’s two navigation cameras. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PARIS (CNES PR) — On Thursday 30 July, the Mars 2020 mission successfully lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida atop an Atlas V launcher. For the Perseverance rover carrying the French-U.S. SuperCam instrument, the long voyage to the red planet has begun. The mission is scheduled to land on Mars on 18 February 2021.

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NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Recharges Its Batteries in Flight

An artist’s concept of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter flying through the Red Planet’s skies. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter received a checkout and recharge of its power system on Friday, Aug. 7, one week into its near seven-month journey to Mars with the Perseverance  rover. This marks the first time the helicopter has been powered up and its batteries have been charged in the space environment.

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Flight Over the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover Landing Site

Video Caption: This video shows Jezero crater, the landing site of the NASA Mars 2020 Perseverance rover on the Red Planet, based on images from ESA’s Mars Express mission. The planned landing area is marked with an orange ellipse.

Launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida on 30 July 2020 on board an Atlas V rocket, the Perseverance rover will land on 18 February 2021 in Jezero crater.

An impact crater with a diameter of about 45 km, Jezero is located at the rim of the giant Isidis impact basin. Morphological evidence suggests that the crater once hosted a lake, some 3.5 billion years ago.

Jezero possesses an inlet- and an outlet channel. The inlet channel discharges into a fan-delta deposit, containing water-rich minerals such as smectite clays. Scientists believe that the lake was relatively long lived because the delta may have required 1 to 10 million years to reach its thickness and size.

Other studies conclude that the lake did not experience periods of important water-level fluctuations and that it was formed by a continuous surface runoff. This makes Jezero crater to a prime target for the search for potential signs of microbial life, because organic molecules are very well preserved in river deltas and lake sediments.

A recent study of the ancient lakeshores, diverse minerals and violent volcanism of Jezero crater based on data from ESA’s Mars Express mission is available here: https://bit.ly/MarsExpressHelpsUncove…

The animation was created using an image mosaic made from four single orbit observations obtained by the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) on Mars Express between 2004 and 2008.

The mosaic combines data from the HRSC nadir and colour channels; the nadir channel is aligned perpendicular to the surface of Mars, as if looking straight down at the surface.

The mosaic image was then combined with topography information from the stereo channels of HRSC to generate a three-dimensional landscape, which was then recorded from different perspectives, as with a movie camera, to render the flight shown in the video.

Copyright:
Animation: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
Music: Björn Schreiner
Soundtrack logo: Alicia Neeseman

An European Dream Team for Mars

In February 2021, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover and NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter (shown in an artist’s concept) will be the agency’s two newest explorers on Mars. Both were named by students as part of an essay contest. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PARIS (ESA PR) — European scientists will help select rocks and soil from Mars in the search for life on our planetary neighbour.

Five European researchers are part of NASA’s Mars 2020 science team to select the most promising martian samples bound for Earth.

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Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover Out of Safe Mode

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover onboard launches from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Thursday, July 30, 2020, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Perseverance rover is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the Red Planet. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Flight controllers for NASA’s Mars 2020 mission have returned the spacecraft to nominal flight operations.

Launched on July 30 at 7:50 a.m. EDT (4:50 a.m. PDT), Mars 2020 entered a state called safe mode soon after it was placed on an interplanetary trajectory because a sensor indicated that part of the spacecraft was slightly colder than expected. When a spacecraft enters safe mode, all but essential systems are turned off until it receives new commands from mission control.

“With safe mode exit, the team is getting down to the business of interplanetary cruise,” said Mars 2020 deputy project manager Matt Wallace of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Next stop, Jezero Crater.”

Managed by JPL, a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California, the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is part of a larger program that includes missions to the Moon as a way to prepare for human exploration of the Red Planet. Charged with returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024, NASA will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028 through NASA’s Artemis program.

UK Scientists to Help NASA Answer the Question, ‘Was There Life on Mars?’

In February 2021, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover and NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter (shown in an artist’s concept) will be the agency’s two newest explorers on Mars. Both were named by students as part of an essay contest. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Scientists from the UK are playing a vital role in a NASA mission to Mars launched on Thursday, 30 July.

SWINDON, UK (UK Space Agency PR) — Backed by the UK Space Agency, researchers at Imperial College London and the Natural History Museum will help the NASA Perseverance rover select Martian rock and soil samples to be brought back from the red planet as it searches for evidence of ancient microbial life.

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Mars 2020 Perseverance Healthy and on Its Way

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover onboard launches from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Thursday, July 30, 2020, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Perseverance rover is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the Red Planet. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The team controlling NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover has received telemetry (detailed spacecraft data) down from the spacecraft and has also been able to send commands up to the spacecraft, according to Matt Wallace, the mission’s deputy project manager. The team, based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, has confirmed that the spacecraft is healthy and on its way to Mars.

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Mars 2020 Mission to be Guided by USGS Astrogeology Maps

Oblique view looking toward the northwest shows the western rim and floor of Jezero crater on Mars. (Credit: USGS Astrogeology Science Center)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (USGS PR) — When you’re planning to explore someplace new, it’s always a good idea to bring a map so you can avoid dangerous terrain. This is true whether you’re heading out for a hike on Earth or you’re landing a rover on Mars.

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NASA’s Next Mars Rover to Test Tech Useful for Human Missions

As seen in this artist’s concept, the SHERLOC instrument is located on the end of the robotic arm of NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

by Margo Pierce
NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate

Robot explorers are helping pave the way for human exploration of the Red Planet. NASA’s newest Mars rover, Perseverance, is equipped with technology to teach us more about the environment and demonstrate what’s needed to support future crewed missions.

“Perseverance paves the way for new science and technological discoveries,” said Jim Reuter, the associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). “The knowledge and capabilities we gain from this mission will help prepare us for human missions on Mars as early as the 2030s. Technology will drive that exploration.”

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Jezero Crater, Landing Site for the Mars Perseverance Rover

On ancient Mars, water carved channels and transported sediments to form fans and deltas within lake basins. Examination of spectral data acquired from orbit show that some of these sediments have minerals that indicate chemical alteration by water. Here in Jezero Crater delta, sediments contain clays and carbonates. The image combines information from two instruments on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars and the Context Camera. (Credits: NASA/JPL/JHUAPL/MSSS/Brown University)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — This image of Jezero Crater, the landing site for the Mars Perseverance Rover, was taken by instruments on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which regularly takes images of potential landing sites for future missions. NASA chose Jezero crater as the landing site for the Perseverance rover because scientists believe the area was once flooded with water and was home to an ancient river delta.

Jezero crater tells a story of the on-again, off-again nature of the wet past of Mars. More than 3.5 billion years ago, river channels spilled over the crater wall and created a lake. Scientists see evidence that water carried clay minerals from the surrounding area into the crater lake. Conceivably, microbial life could have lived in Jezero during one or more of these wet times. If so, signs of their remains might be found in lakebed or shoreline sediments.

NASA Launches Mars 2020 Mission to Red Planet

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover onboard launches from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Thursday, July 30, 2020, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Perseverance rover is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the Red Planet. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

An United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V roared off a launch pad in Florida on Thursday, sending the Mars Perseverance rover to a landing on the Red Planet next February.

Atlas V lifted off on schedule at 7:50 EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California received a signal from the spacecraft about 1 hour 25 minutes after launch.

Perseverance will explore Jezero crater and collect samples for later retrieval and return to Earth by a joint U.S.-European mission planned for later this decade.

Perseverance carries a small helicopter, Ingenuity, that will become the first vehicle to fly on another world. The rover also includes an experiment that will produce oxygen from carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere.

It was the third and final mission to Mars sent during this launch window. China launched an orbiter, lander and rover and the United Arab Emirates launched an orbiter earlier in July.