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NASA announces demise of Opportunity rover

By Ivan Couronne

Washington (AFP)

Feb 14, 2019

During 14 years of intrepid exploration across Mars, it advanced human knowledge by confirming that water once flowed on the red planet — but NASA’s Opportunity rover has analyzed its last soil sample.

The robot has been missing since the US space agency lost contact during a dust storm in June last year and was declared officially dead Wednesday, ending one of the most fruitful missions in the history of space exploration.

Unable to recharge its batteries, Opportunity left hundreds of messages from Earth unanswered over the months, and NASA said it made its last attempt at contact Tuesday evening.

“I declare the Opportunity mission as complete,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate told a news conference at mission headquarters in Pasadena, California.

The community of researchers and engineers involved in the program were in mourning over the passing of the rover, known affectionately as Oppy.

“It is a hard day,” said John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover project.

“Even though it is a machine and we’re saying goodbye, it’s very hard and it’s very poignant.”

“Don’t be sad it’s over, be proud it taught us so much,” former president Barack Obama tweeted later on Thursday.

“Congrats to all the men and women of @NASA on a @MarsRovers mission that beat all expectations, inspired a new generation of Americans, and demands we keep investing in science that pushes the boundaries of human knowledge.”

The nostalgia extended across the generations of scientists who have handled the plucky little adventurer.

“Godspeed, Opportunity,” tweeted Keri Bean, who had the “privilege” of sending the final message to the robot.

“Hail to the Queen of Mars,” added Mike Seibert, Opportunity’s former flight director and rover driver in another tweet, while Frank Hartman, who piloted Oppy, told AFP he felt “greatly honored to have been a small part of it.”

“Engulfed by a giant planet-encircling dust storm: Is there a more fitting end for a mission as perfect and courageous from start to finish as Opportunity?” he said.

The program has had an extraordinary record of success: 28.1 miles (45.2 kilometers) traversed, more than the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 moon rover during the 1970s and more than the rover that US astronauts took to the moon on the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

“It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

Opportunity sent back 217,594 images from Mars, all of which were made available on the internet.

– Human-like perspective –

“For the public, the big change was that Mars became a dynamic place, and it was a place that you could explore every day,” Emily Lakdawalla, an expert on space exploration and senior editor at The Planetary Society.

“The fact that this rover was so mobile, it seemed like an animate creature,” she said. “Plus it has this perspective on the Martian surface that’s very human-like.”

“It really felt like an avatar for humanity traveling across the surface,” she added.

Opportunity landed on an immense plain and spent half its life there, traversing flat expanses and once getting stuck in a sand dune for several weeks. It was there, using geological instruments, that it confirmed that liquid water was once present on Mars.

During the second part of its life on Mars, Opportunity climbed to the edge of the crater Endeavor, taking spectacular panoramic images — and discovering veins of gypsum, additional proof that water once flowed among the Martian rocks.

Opportunity’s twin, Spirit, landed three weeks ahead of it, and was active until it expired in 2010. The two far exceeded the goals of their creators: In theory, their missions were supposed to last 90 days.

Today, only a single rover is still active on Mars, Curiosity, which arrived in 2012. It is powered not by the sun, but by a small nuclear reactor.

In 2021, the recently named Rosalind Franklin robot, part of the European-Russian ExoMars mission, is slated to land on a different part of the planet, raising the population of active rovers to two.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Mission_complete_NASA_announces_demise_of_Opportunity_rover_999.html.

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First joint EU-Russian ExoMars mission to reach Mars orbit Oct 16

Moscow (Sputnik)

Apr 13, 2016

The first ever joint project between the European Union and Russia on the search for life on Mars – the ExoMars spacecraft- will reach Mars’ orbit on October 16, the head of Roscosmos State Corporation said.

“We expect the ExoMars spacecraft to enter the orbit of Mars around October 16 and later start its work,” Igor Komarov said.

A Russian Proton-M rocket carrier lifted off with the ExoMars’ orbital and the landing modules from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 14.

The ExoMars-2016’s main mission is to prove the existence of methane in the planet’s atmosphere, which would confirm the existence of life on Mars.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/First_joint_EU_Russian_ExoMars_mission_to_reach_Mars_orbit_Oct_16_999.html.

Rocket blasts off on Russia-Europe mission seeking life on Mars

Baikonur, Kazakhstan (AFP)

March 14, 2016

A joint European-Russian mission aiming to search for traces of life on Mars left Earth’s orbit Monday at the start of a seven-month unmanned journey to the Red Planet, space agency managers said.

The Proton rocket carrying the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) to examine Mars’ atmosphere and a descent module that will conduct a test landing on its surface had earlier launched from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in the Kazakh steppe at 0931 GMT.

The spacecraft detached from its Briz-M rocket booster just after 2000 GMT before beginning its 496-million-kilometer (308-million-mile) voyage through the cosmos, the European Space Agency (ESA) said.

At 2129 GMT the probe and the lander, dubbed Schiaparelli, sent “signals confirming that the launch had gone well and that the space vehicle is in good condition” ESA said in a statement later Monday.

The TGO probe “is alive and talking,” ESA said on Twitter.

The ExoMars 2016 mission, a collaboration between the ESA and its Russian equivalent Roscosmos, is the first part of a two-phase exploration aiming to answer questions about the existence of life on Earth’s neighbor.

The TGO will examine methane around Mars while the lander, Schiaparelli, will detach and descend to the surface of the fourth planet from the Sun.

The landing of the module on Mars is designed as a trial run ahead of the planned second stage of the mission in 2018 that will see the first European rover land on the surface to drill for signs of life, although problems with financing mean it could be delayed.

‘Nose in space’

One key goal of the TGO is to analyse methane, a gas which on Earth is created in large part by living microbes, and traces of which were observed by previous Mars missions.

“TGO will be like a big nose in space,” said Jorge Vago, ExoMars project scientist.

Methane, ESA said, is normally destroyed by ultraviolet radiation within a few hundred years, which implied that in Mars’ case “it must still be produced today”.

TGO will analyse Mars’ methane in more detail than any previous mission, said ESA, in order to try to determine its likely origin.

One component of TGO, a neutron detector called FREND, can help provide improved mapping of potential water resources on Mars, amid growing evidence the planet once had as much if not more water than Earth.

A better insight into water on Mars could aid scientists’ understanding of how the Earth might cope in conditions of increased drought.

Schiaparelli, in turn, will spend several days measuring climatic conditions including seasonal dust storms on the Red Planet while serving as a test lander ahead of the rover’s anticipated arrival.

The module takes its name from 19th century Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli whose discovery of “canals” on Mars caused people to believe, for a while, that there was intelligent life on our neighboring planet.

The ExoMars spacecraft was built and designed by Franco-Italian contractor Thales Alenia Space.

‘Need more money’

As for the next phase of ExoMars, ESA director general Jan Woerner has mooted a possible two-year delay, saying in January: “We need some more money” due to cost increases.

The rover scheduled for 2018 has been designed to drill up to two meters (around seven feet) into the Red Planet in search of organic matter, a key indicator of life past or present.

ESA said the rover landing “remains a significant challenge” however.

Although TGO’s main science mission is scheduled to last until December 2017, it has enough fuel to continue operations for years after, if all goes well.

Thomas Reiter, director of human spaceflight at ESA, said in televised remarks ahead of the launch he believed a manned mission to Mars would take place “maybe in 20 years or 30 years”.

Russian-American duo Mikhail Kornienko and Scott Kelly earlier this month returned from a year-long mission at the International Space Station seen as a vital precursor to such a mission.

The ExoMars mission will complement the work of NASA’s “Curiosity” rover which has spent more than three years on the Red Planet as part of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission.

Curiosity, a car-sized mobile laboratory, aims to gather soil and rock samples on Mars and analyse them “for organic compounds and environmental conditions that could have supported life now or in the past,” according to NASA.

Space has been one of the few areas of cooperation between Moscow and the West that has not been damaged by ongoing geopolitical tensions stemming from the crises in Ukraine and Syria.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Rocket_blasts_off_on_Russia-Europe_mission_seeking_life_on_Mars_999.html.

Destination Red Planet: Will Billionaires Fund a Private Mars Colony

Moscow (Sputnik)

Aug 27, 2015

With over 1,800 billionaires in the world, a sizable investment from at least one of them could provide a major push to colonize the Red Planet. For nonprofit organization Mars One, the right wealthy investor could help with their ambitious plan to put man on Mars by 2027.

Mars One was founded with the goal of eventually colonizing the fourth planet from the Sun. Bas Lansdorp, one of the organization’s co-founders, admitted that such a venture is impossible without huge investments. During a speech at the annual International Mars Society Convention in Washington DC, Lansdorp pointed out that tycoons like Bill Gates are badly needed.

“That will change everything,” he said. According to Mars One’s estimates, establishing a settlement of six individuals on the Red Planet by 2027 will cost roughly $6 billion.

To lay the groundwork, the organization plans to launch a communications satellite to remain in Martian orbit, as well as a Mars lander, by 2020. By 2022, a second satellite will be launched, as well as a small rover. In 2024, Mars One hopes to send six cargo ships loaded with all of the equipment necessary for construction of the settlement.

That same year, two astronauts will be launched to Mars to setup the colony. Four additional people will land on the Red Planet by 2027. That’s the plan, at least, according to Mars One’s website.

Experts attending the Mars Society Convention called the proposal “infeasible.” They noted that the cost of creating such a colony would rise dramatically over time. The number of specialists and spare parts required for further development of the colony would also increase constantly.

According to MIT students Sydney Do and Andrew Owens, every new launch would cost about $4 billion.

“[T]he Mars One strategy of one-way missions is inherently unsustainable without a Mars-based manufacturing capacity,” Owens said, according to Space.com.

However, Landsorp remains optimistic about the future of the project. He argued that landing human beings on the surface of the moon seemed impossible in 1961, but that mission was completed within just 8 years.

He did, however, concede that his cost estimates may be too low. But this is a problem he’s prepared to address.

“Mars One’s goal is not to send humans to Mars in 2027 with a $6 billion budget and 14 launches,” Landsorp said. “Our goal is to send humans to Mars, period.”

So far, Mars One has a long way to go. The organization is currently struggling to raise the $15 million required for the project’s first stages. But in the near future, Landsopr hopes to attract imaginative investors by staging a huge media event across the globe.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Destination_Red_Planet_Will_Billionaires_Fund_a_Private_Mars_Colony_999.html.

Mars Express: Current flows and ‘islands’ in Ares Vallis

Berlin, Germany (SPX)

Oct 10, 2011

The Ares Vallis outflow channel meanders for more than 1700 kilometers across the southern highlands of Mars and ends in a 100-kilometer-wide delta-like region in the lowlands of Chryse Planitia.

On 11 May 2011, parts of the Ares Vallis channel were photographed using the High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC) operated by the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) on board ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft during orbit 9393.

The images show a large, partially eroded crater, streamlined ‘islands’ and terrace-like ‘river banks’ on the valley walls; all signs of erosion by the water that, in the period of Mars’ early formation, would have flowed through Ares Vallis.

The photographs, acquired from an altitude of 300 kilometers, show a section of the Ares Vallis channel located at 16 degrees north and 327 degrees east. The image resolution is about 15 meters per pixel. The valley was named after Ares, the Greek god of war, whose counterpart among the Roman deities was Mars.

The Ares Vallis outflow channel was discovered in 1976 in images acquired by the US Viking spacecraft. In 1997, the small Mars Pathfinder rover landed in the Ares Vallis channel to investigate the signs of water flow.

The most distinctive landscape characteristic is the large impact crater Oraibi, about 32 kilometers across. The crater lies just 100 kilometers south of where Pathfinder landed (see context map) on 4 July 1997; it explored the area for 12 weeks.

Crater flooded by large quantities of water

The signs of erosion are easily spotted on the Oraibi crater. The landscape formation shows that the crater was heavily engulfed; the force of the water was so strong that the southern rim of the crater was breached and the interior of the crater flooded and filled with sediment (frame 1 in the overview picture; north is towards the right). It seems that water would have once flowed through the valley with considerable force and managed to erode large quantities of material.

As a result, the ‘river banks’ have a stepped, terrace-like morphology (frame 2 in the overview picture). Parallel ridges and troughs running in the direction of flow also suggest powerful erosion. Other patterns of erosion on the valley floor can be identified by means of the streamlined islands (frame 3 in the overview); these indicate the former direction of flow.

Just as revealing are the ‘ghost craters’ – the outlines of which can just be made out. They are found both in the valley itself and on the plateau (left half of the overview image).

This suggests that some areas of the plateau, which rises to about 1000 meters above Ares Vallis, were also at least partially flooded. On the plateau, many isolated buttes, or monadnocks, are visible (frame 4 in the overview).

They appear to be remnants of an earlier continuous coverage that has mostly been eroded. On the left edge of the image, part of an ejecta blanket from a large impact can also be seen on the plateau.

A landslide and dense clusters of impact craters

On the top left edge of the image (frame 5 in the overview image) we see an interesting detail – a landslide. It is about four kilometers wide and could have resulted from the impact of the asteroid whose crater ejecta blanket is shown in frame 4. Some of the individual rays of these ejecta can be followed to the landslide.

Also characteristic of this region are the unusually dense clusters of impact craters (frame 3 in the overview image) that are either arranged in clusters or in a directed pattern. Two processes can be responsible for forming crater groups like this.

Some crater groups develop when an asteroid penetrates the atmosphere and breaks into numerous small pieces of debris, which then individually impact the surface.

Other crater groups are characteristic of secondary craters; that is, many pieces of rock are thrown up by the impact of an asteroid – these then fall back to the surface over a distance of several kilometers and form smaller craters.

The color image was generated from data acquired by the HRSC nadir channel and color channels; the oblique perspective images were generated from HRSC stereo channel data.

The anaglyph image, which conveys a 3D impression of the landscape when seen through red/blue or red/green glasses, was derived from data acquired with the nadir channel and one of the stereo channels.

The black-and-white detail image was acquired using the nadir channel, which captures image data at the highest resolution of all the channels.

The High-Resolution Stereo Camera, HRSC, on the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission is led by the Principal Investigator (PI) Prof. Dr Gerhard Neukum, who was also responsible for the technical design of the camera. The science team of the experiment consists of 40 co-investigators from 33 institutions and 10 nations.

The camera was developed at DLR under the leadership of the PI and it was built in cooperation with industrial partners EADS Astrium, Lewicki Microelectronic GmbH and Jena Optronik GmbH.

The instrument on Mars Express is operated by the DLR Institute of Planetary Research, through ESA/ESOC. The systematic processing of the HRSC image data is carried out at DLR. The scenes shown here were processed by the PI-group at the Institute for Geosciences of the Freie Universitat Berlin.

Source: Mars Daily.

Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/Mars_Express_Current_flows_and_islands_in_Ares_Vallis_999.html.

Curiosity finds clues to how water helped shape Mars

Pasadena CA (JPL)
Dec 09, 2014

Observations by NASA’s Curiosity Rover indicate Mars’ Mount Sharp was built by sediments deposited in a large lake bed over tens of millions of years. This interpretation of Curiosity’s finds in Gale Crater suggests ancient Mars maintained a climate that could have produced long-lasting lakes at many locations on the Red Planet.

“If our hypothesis for Mount Sharp holds up, it challenges the notion that warm and wet conditions were transient, local, or only underground on Mars,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “A more radical explanation is that Mars’ ancient, thicker atmosphere raised temperatures above freezing globally, but so far we don’t know how the atmosphere did that.”

Why this layered mountain sits in a crater has been a challenging question for researchers. Mount Sharp stands about 3 miles (5 kilometers) tall, its lower flanks exposing hundreds of rock layers. The rock layers – alternating between lake, river and wind deposits — bear witness to the repeated filling and evaporation of a Martian lake much larger and longer-lasting than any previously examined close-up.

“We are making headway in solving the mystery of Mount Sharp,” said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

“Where there’s now a mountain, there may have once been a series of lakes.”

Curiosity currently is investigating the lowest sedimentary layers of Mount Sharp, a section of rock 500 feet (150 meters) high, dubbed the Murray formation. Rivers carried sand and silt to the lake, depositing the sediments at the mouth of the river to form deltas similar to those found at river mouths on Earth. This cycle occurred over and over again.

“The great thing about a lake that occurs repeatedly, over and over, is that each time it comes back it is another experiment to tell you how the environment works,” Grotzinger said.

“As Curiosity climbs higher on Mount Sharp, we will have a series of experiments to show patterns in how the atmosphere and the water and the sediments interact. We may see how the chemistry changed in the lakes over time. This is a hypothesis supported by what we have observed so far, providing a framework for testing in the coming year.”

After the crater filled to a height of at least a few hundred yards, or meters, and the sediments hardened into rock, the accumulated layers of sediment were sculpted over time into a mountainous shape by wind erosion that carved away the material between the crater perimeter and what is now the edge of the mountain.

On the 5-mile (8-kilometer) journey from Curiosity’s 2012 landing site to its current work site at the base of Mount Sharp, the rover uncovered clues about the changing shape of the crater floor during the era of lakes.

“We found sedimentary rocks suggestive of small, ancient deltas stacked on top of one another,” said Curiosity science team member Sanjeev Gupta of Imperial College in London. “Curiosity crossed a boundary from an environment dominated by rivers to an environment dominated by lakes.”

Despite earlier evidence from several Mars missions that pointed to wet environments on ancient Mars, modeling of the ancient climate has yet to identify the conditions that could have produced long periods warm enough for stable water on the surface.

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Project uses Curiosity to assess ancient, potentially habitable environments and the significant changes the Martian environment has experienced over millions of years. This project is one element of NASA’s ongoing Mars research and preparation for a human mission to the planet in the 2030s.

“Knowledge we’re gaining about Mars’ environmental evolution by deciphering how Mount Sharp formed will also help guide plans for future missions to seek signs of Martian life,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program at the agency’s headquarters in Washington.

Source: Mars Daily.
Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/NASAs_Curiosity_Rover_Finds_Clues_to_How_Water_Helped_Shape_Martian_Landscape_999.html.

NASA seeks proposals for deep space exploration, journey to Mars

Washington DC (SPX)

Oct 29, 2014

NASA is soliciting proposals for concept studies or technology development projects that will be necessary to enable human pioneers to go to deep space destinations such as an asteroid and Mars.

Through the release of a Broad Area Announcement (BAA), the agency seeks to use public-private partnerships to share funding to develop advanced propulsion, habitation and small satellite capabilities that will enable the pioneering of space.

Public-private partnerships of this type help NASA stimulate the U.S. space industry while working to expand the frontiers of knowledge, capabilities and opportunities in space.

NASA intends to engage partners to help develop and build a set of sustainable, evolvable, multi-use space capabilities that will enable human pioneers to go to deep space destinations. Developing capabilities in three key areas – advanced propulsion, habitation, and small satellites deployed from the Space Launch System – is critical to enabling the next step for human spaceflight.

This work will use the proving ground of space around the moon to develop technologies and advance knowledge to expand human exploration into the solar system.

State-of-the-art solar electric propulsion technology currently employed by NASA generates less than five kilowatts. The Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) BAA selected proposals for concepts developing systems in the 40-kilowatt range. NASA now is seeking to advance the technology to 50- to 300-kilowatt systems to meet the needs of a variety of mission concepts.

Orion is the first component of human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and will be capable of sustaining a crew of four for 21 days in deep space and returning them safely to Earth. NASA seeks proposals for concept studies, technology investigation, and concepts of operations to enable extended space habitation as the next foundational cornerstone of a future deep space transit capability.

The studies will help define the architecture and subsystems of a modular habitation capability, which will be used to augment planned missions around the moon as well as to provide initial operations and testing in the proving ground for future systems in support of human exploration in deep space.

Studies can address transportation, habitation, operations or environmental capabilities of a habitation system.

This BAA also provides for the selection of proposals for the development and delivery of small satellite missions that address strategic knowledge gaps for future human exploration.

Selected small satellites, known as cubesats, will fly as secondary payload missions on Exploration Mission-1. The mission provides a rare opportunity to boost these cubesats to deep space and enable science, technology demonstration, exploration or commercial applications in that environment.

Through awards from this BAA, NASA’s goal is to accomplish both near-term missions and sustained investments in technologies and capabilities to address the challenges of deep space exploration. Because capabilities and technologies developed through these awards will have significant potential commercial applications, NASA expects partners to contribute significant resources.

Eligible applicants from U.S. companies, non-profit organizations, and international institutions must submit proposals electronically by 4:30 p.m. EST Dec. 12. BAA awards are subject to the availability of funding. NASA may not make any awards until the agency receives fiscal year 2015 appropriations, or may choose to award only in specific areas and reserve the remaining awards pending final appropriations for the fiscal year.

Source: Space-Travel.

Link: http://www.space-travel.com/reports/NASA_Seeks_Proposals_to_Develop_Capabilities_for_Deep_Space_Exploration_Journey_to_Mars_999.html.

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