Wednesday, 19 December, 2018

NASA stages for next chapter of Mars exploration with 2020 landing site

NASA In Sight Landing NASA officially announces landing site of Mars 2020 rover, and it’s incredibly interesting
Derrick Tucker | 24 November, 2018, 13:48

It's been many years in the making, but NASA's Mars 2020 rover mission is now in the home stretch. These orbiters are also known as CubeSats which are small and low-priced satellites.

It's full name is Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport-InSight for short.

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, CA - MAY 03: The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-V rocket is seen with NASA's InSight spacecraft onboard, Thursday, May 3, 2018, at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

A pair of tiny satellites that traveled with InSight, called Mars Cube One or MarCO, may ease the wait.

The 28-mile-wide Jezero Crater will give the Mars 2020 mission an opportunity to study a lot of loose rock material, but water was also on NASA's mind when it picked the landing site. MarCO is now being tested away for future missions to send back data on their entry, descent and landing.

"If Elysium Planitia were a salad, it would consist of romaine lettuce and kale - no dressing", Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said.

If these pipsqueaks manage to relay InSight's radio signals to ground controllers almost 100 million miles (160 million kilometres) away, we'll know within minutes whether the spacecraft landed safely.

Mars InSight

MarCO's job will be over after the InSight has already landed.

Scientists have debated where to land the rover for the past four years, and whittled down their decision from more than 60 possible sites.

Named WALL-E and EVE after the main characters in the 2008 animated movie, the twin CubeSats will pass within a few thousand miles (kilometres) of Mars as the lander attempts its dicey touchdown.

"The landing site in Jezero Crater offers geologically rich terrain, with landforms reaching as far back as 3.6 billion years old, that could potentially answer important questions in planetary evolution and astrobiology", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Because of its size, the orbiters don't have enough fuel or equipment to enter a long-term orbit around Mars.

Image: NASA has announced the rover will land in the Jezero Crater.

When the landing site search began, mission engineers already had refined the landing system such that they were able to reduce the Mars 2020 landing zone to an area 50 percent smaller than that for the landing of NASA's Curiosity rover at Gale Crater in 2012.

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