Spacecraft Landing on Mars

spacecraft on mars

After making its journey across Mars’ harsh atmosphere, a spacecraft successfully arrives at its destination and sends back information on its weather and geology.

Curiosity has found evidence of long-lived, potentially habitable conditions in Gale crater on Mars and discovered minerals typically formed from water sources.


India’s Mars Orbiter Mission Mangalyaan outlived expectations after being launched into space in November 2013. The mission has entered Mars orbit since September 2014 and remains operational despite space agency attempts at communication as its battery has since died out.

MOM boasts several scientific instruments designed to study Mars’ surface and atmosphere. These instruments include a color camera, thermal infrared scanner, ultraviolet spectrometer measuring hydrogen and deuterium concentrations in its atmosphere, mass spectrometer that determines neutral particles found therein as well as methane sensors.

These tools will assist scientists in understanding Mars’ atmosphere and history, including its transition from being wetter in its early history to its current climate of cold and dry today. Additionally, these instruments serve as complements to MAVEN, an initiative of NASA aimed at discovering why water was lost from Mars.

Russia’s Phobos-Grunt

Russia’s Phobos-Grunt probe was intended to leave Earth orbit and head toward Mars’ moon Phobos, gathering samples and returning them back home. Instead, however, it stalled soon after taking off from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur cosmodrome on November 9. Space agency engineers have had no success reviving its engines or breaking free of Earth orbit.

Russian officials have put forward various excuses, including beamed power from an American radar station and radiation. A top official even suggested that counterfeit microchips manufactured in China might have been installed on Phobos-Grunt.

This weekend, it is likely that a spacecraft will crash into the ocean carrying tons of toxic propellant that should burn during reentry but some metal debris from it may reach Earth’s surface and cause injuries or property damage.

ESA’s Rosetta

Rosetta, launched by the European Space Agency and scheduled for final descent on September 30, is one of its most ambitious missions yet. Already its orbiter and lander have collected an enormous amount of data that scientists can utilize. It’s estimated that final descent will yield even more.

Rosetta Stone and Philae Obelisk, two ancient Egyptian artifacts that helped decipher hieroglyphics. This spacecraft has embarked upon a remarkable voyage using gravitational support from Earth and Mars to accelerate into an orbit that escorted comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko into orbit.

Rosetta has unearthed an intriguing world. Rosetta approaches closely the bilobate nucleus of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (known affectionately by scientists as ‘ducky”) which bears striking resemblance to rubber duckies and earned them their name ‘ducky’. Now, Rosetta is in an active-passive mode as it prepares for various swing-bys and occultation maneuvers planned around other planets and solar systems.

NASA’s Phoenix

The Phoenix Mars Lander was launched into space on August 2007 and arrived on Mars’ northern polar region on May 25, 2008. Its mission is to study Martian ice, soil and atmosphere using its chemistry lab, volatiles-analysis instrument, thermal conductivity probes and cameras.

After successfully surviving its “7 minutes of terror” of landing–including heat shield ejection, parachute deployment and radar activation–Phoenix began sending back data. Among its discoveries was confirmation of water ice at its landing site as well as finding chemicals such as chlorate in soil samples. Phoenix then entered its polar winter with sunlight gradually decreasing; daily downlinks continued through NASA’s Mars Odyssey and Reconnaissance orbiters.

Future missions

Since the 1960s, humans have sent many spacecraft to Mars. Early missions involved flybys where spacecraft took dozens of photos as they flew by; later missions involved probes pulling into orbit and landing on its surface.

Future Mars missions should focus on three broad science themes: continuing our search for signs of life, studying its geological history and preparing humans to explore it, as well as making attempts at forecasting dust storms or characterizing potential landing sites with water-rich surfaces.

Within the next several years, several missions are set to launch toward Mars. These include the American-European Mars 2020 mission and ESA’s Rosalind Franklin rover – built by Airbus UK – designed to drill two meters deep into Martian soil in search of organic molecules.

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