Launching Spacecraft For Mars

Every year, Earth and Mars align in the sky, offering space agencies an ideal opportunity to launch probes to investigate this red planet.

In 1996, Mars Pathfinder and Mars Global Surveyor missions demonstrated airbag landing techniques suitable for larger rovers. Mars Pathfinder featured several experiments like camera mast, weather station and high gain antenna that would later be seen on future missions.

Mars Rovers

A Mars rover gathers information about its surface, such as minerals. Additionally, it studies rock chemical makeup to reveal information about environments which shaped those rocks over time.

Two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, successfully touched down on opposite sides of Mars to search for signs of past water presence. Equipped with panoramic cameras, micro imagers, rock abrasion tools, as well as infrared, gamma-ray and alpha particle spectrometers respectively, they performed their search.

Malin Space Science Systems in San Diego constructed both the lander and rover. The “brain” of the rover is a computer with special memory to withstand radiation exposure and safety features like shut-offs and power saving modes, heaters and multi-layer insulation keep electronics warm enough for functioning, solar panels produce power for electricity generation while star scanners detect directions; furthermore a freon system removes excess heat so the rover won’t overheat.

Mars Orbiter Missions

Since 2004, Mars Express has completed mapping 95 per cent of Mars at 20 meter resolution or better, using its spectrometer to locate clay minerals which suggest ancient wet environments. Furthermore, it has studied outer atmosphere and polar ice as well as making close flybys of Mars’ inner moon Phobos.

India’s Mangalyaan satellite, launched in 2015, has successfully observed and photographed an incredible Martian dust storm and captured stunning colour images. Additionally, this next-generation mission will study atmospheric conditions and polar ice using state-of-the-art instruments.

Europe and Russia’s ExoMars programme is on schedule to deliver two rovers – Rosalind Franklin in Europe and Russian Phobos in Russia – by 2028, searching for signs of past life on Mars. Their instruments will include Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which will survey from above; Rosalind Franklin will drill into soil samples up to two metres deep using drills before performing chemical analysis aboard.

Mars Exploration Rovers

These two 10-foot-long rovers are equipped with panoramic cameras, microscopic images, rock abrasion tools and three different spectrometers – originally intended to last 90 days but having outlived expectations they have found evidence that Mars once contained water – an essential ingredient for life as we know it!

Both rovers rely on power from solar arrays and lithium-ion batteries, with heaters and multi-layer insulation to keep electronics “warm,” while a freon system removes excess heat from flight computer and communications hardware to avoid overheating. Rover navigation systems use Sun sensors and star scanners to determine their location in space; trajectory correction maneuvers are utilized regularly for trajectory correction; regular health checks ensure proper functioning.

In January 2004, two rovers landed at sites where there may have been evidence for past liquid water activity. Rolling out of an airbag-protected landing, they studied their surroundings from afar before leaving again to continue exploring further.

Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution

NASA’s MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) mission, launched in November 2013, is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring Mars’ upper atmosphere. It focuses on studying how quickly atmospheric species escape into space – which provides valuable information on climate, water history, and habitability on Mars.

MAVEN’s solar wind ion analyzer will measure the composition of Martian atmosphere while its neutral gas and ion mass spectrometer will monitor atmospheric escape into space. Together these measurements will enable scientists to track variations in rate of atmospheric escape over time as well as extrapolate backwards to uncover more details of what was happening when Mars had thicker atmospheric coverage.

Evidence found on Mars, such as riverbed-like craters and minerals found only in liquid form, indicates that once upon a time there was liquid water on its surface. Understanding why liquid water suddenly dried up could provide clues as to the possibility of life on other planets too.

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