Mars is home to an exciting new breed of spacecraft designed to facilitate scientific study and discovery, and one day send humans there. These spacecraft offer unprecedented access for scientific analysis.
The Lander is designed in the shape of a tetrahedron with sides that open like petals, housing cameras, weather stations and a six-wheeled rover inside it.
Mars Exploration Rovers
As the initial rovers explored their sites, they helped scientists reconstruct an ancient past on Mars. Opportunity and Endeavour explored Eagle and Endeavour craters, discovering evidence of lakes between sand dunes; while Spirit explored Gusev and Jezero craters in Gusev and Jezero Craters to demonstrate evidence that water affected rocks.
Sojourner made its landing at Ares Vallis, an area which had water in its past. Although originally planned to only operate for one week, its lifespan increased exponentially with 11 weeks worth of sending back over 550 images!
Each rover features front and rear cameras as well as hardware to conduct scientific experiments, powered by solar panels with heaters and multi-layer insulation to keep its electronics warm.
NASA’s Curiosity landed in 2012 on Mars using a “sky crane” system which hoisted it onto retrorockets before gently lowering it onto its surface. Since then, Curiosity has examined rock samples and detected organic molecules likely derived from living organisms rather than geologic processes alone.
The Mars Orbiter has provided scientists with invaluable data regarding Mars’ surface features and mineralogy, atmospheric processes and trace gases – information which will aid their study of the planet’s geological and climateological history.
The Mars Orbiter was designed to detect methane in its atmosphere by measuring Doppler shift on radio signals; however, this approach only works effectively if velocity changes are perpendicular to Earth; which wasn’t always true during its trip there.
Mission Control took steps to raise the craft’s trajectory before entering Mars’ atmosphere, but engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab had miscommunication issues; one engineer accidentally substituted English units for metric ones resulting in navigation errors and an unsafe new trajectory which resulted in its destruction on entry – just a day when engineers expected to celebrate successful insertion!
Mars Science Laboratory
NASA Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) was the inaugural mission to successfully land and control a rover on Mars; Curiosity began exploring Gale Crater shortly after arriving on August 5, 2012 for exploration.
This mission’s primary objective is to discover whether Mars ever hosted an environment suitable for life by studying rock and soil samples taken at its landing site. The rover’s tools include cameras that take color and black-and-white pictures of its environment as well as a drilling arm with which soil can be scooped up from rocks for powder samples; also included are instruments called APXS, ChemCam, Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM), as well as Tunable Laser Spectrometer for looking out for signs of past life.
Mission of Mars also explores its contemporary atmosphere and environment, using the Radiation Assessment Detector on its rover to measure high-energy radiation on its surface and the Rover Environmental Monitoring System to record weather conditions such as atmospheric pressure, air/ground temperatures, humidity, UV levels, wind speed/direction.
Phoenix was a NASA Mars exploration spacecraft intended to discover whether life existed ever on the Red Planet. Built upon the foundation of the cancelled 2001 Mars Surveyor lander and carrying upgraded versions of instruments from lost Mars Polar Lander missions, Phoenix used remote sensing techniques and navigational sensors to make its observations.
The Phoenix Mission was initiated August 4, 2007 to investigate the history of water on Mars’ arctic environment and search for signs that it once supported life. The Phoenix payload included a robotic arm capable of digging through suspected layers of ice to reveal what lies below, along with various instruments to analyze samples taken both from its surface and soil layers.
Communication throughout the EDL phase — from cruise stage separation to landing plus one minute — was accomplished using UHF relay between Phoenix and Mars Odyssey (ODY), Mars Express (MEX), and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). Following touchdown, Phoenix conducted two forward link command passes and one return link telemetry pass per sol.