Mars Exploration: 2005 & Beyond
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
During recent months, NASA has been developing a long-term Mars exploration program that charts a course for the next two decades. The new program incorporates the lessons learned from previous mission successes and failures, and builds on scientific discoveries from past missions. International participation, especially from Italy and France, will add significantly to the plan.
2005 Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
In 2005, NASA plans to launch a powerful scientific orbiter, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. This mission will focus on analyzing the surface at new scales in an effort to follow tantalizing hints of water detected in images from the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, and to bridge the gap between surface observations and measurements from orbit. For example, the Reconnaissance Orbiter will measure thousands of Martian landscapes at 20- to 30-centimeter (8- to 12-inch) resolution, good enough to observe rocks the size of beach balls.
Smart Lander and Long-range Rover
NASA proposes to develop and to launch a roving long-range, long-duration science laboratory that will be a major leap in surface measurements and pave the way for a future sample return mission. NASA is studying options to launch this mobile science laboratory mission as early as 2009. This capability will also demonstrate the technology for "smart landers" with accurate landing and hazard avoidance in order to reach what may be very promising but difficult-to-reach scientific sites.
NASA also proposes to create a new line of small "Scout" missions which would be selected from proposals from the science community, and might involve airborne vehicles (e.g., airplanes or balloons) or small landers, as an investigation platform. Exciting new vistas could be opened up by this approach either through the airborne scale of observation or by increasing the number of sites visited. The first Scout mission launch is planned for 2007.
Sample Return and Other Missions
In the second decade of the century, NASA plans additional science orbiters, rovers and landers, and the first mission to return samples of Martian rock and soil to Earth. Current plans call for the first sample return mission to be launched no earlier than 2014. Options that would significantly increase the rate of mission launch and/or accelerate the schedule of exploration are under study. Technology development for advanced capabilities such as miniaturized surface science instruments and deep drilling to hundreds of meters will also be carried out in this period.
The program envisions significant international participation, particularly by France and Italy. In cooperation with NASA, the French and Italian space agencies plan to conduct collaborative scientific orbital and surface investigations and to make other major contributions to sample collection/return systems, telecommunications assets and launch services. Other nations also have expressed interest in participating in the program.
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