NASA to launch Mars ice mapping mission

NASA has signed a statement of intent with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) for collaboration in the mission. 

Created On: Feb 6, 2021 12:58 ISTModified On: Feb 6, 2021 13:58 IST
Mars Rover- NASA Image

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is planning to launch a robotic Mars ice mapping mission in collaboration with three international partners. The mission could help the agency identify potential science objectives for initial human missions to Mars.

The ice mapping mission will help in identifying abundant, accessible ice for future candidate landing sites on the Red Planet.  This was informed by NASA on February 3, 2021.

Key Details

NASA has signed a statement of intent with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) for collaboration in the mission. 

Under the SoI, the agencies have announced their intention to develop a mission plan and define their potential roles and responsibilities. 

The agencies will be setting up a joint concept team to assess the potential of the mission. The mission may be ready for launch as early as 2026 if the concept moves forward. 

The Mars Ice Mapper mission would help detect the location, depth, spatial extent and abundance of near-surface ice deposits, which would, in turn, enable the science community to develop a deeper understanding of Mar's volatile history.

The radar-carrying orbiter would help identify properties of dust and loose rocky material, which is known as regolith, and rock layers that might impact the ability to access ice.

Objective 

The International Mars ice-mapping mission could help the agency identify potential science objectives for initial human missions to Mars, which is expected to be designed for about 30 days of exploration on the surface.

It could help in identifying and characterizing accessible water ice, which could lead to human-tended science such as ice coring to support the search for life.

The Ice Mapper could also map water-ice resources on the red planet for later human missions with longer surface expeditions.

It could also help meet exploration engineering constraints such as avoidance of rock and terrain hazards.

Mapping the shallow water ice could also support supplemental high-value science objectives related to Martian climatology and geology.

NASA’s senior advisor for agency architectures and mission alignment, Jim Watzin said in a statement that the innovative partnership model for Mars Ice Mapper combines our global experience and allows for cost-sharing across the board to make this mission more feasible for all interested parties. There may be opportunities for other space agencies and commercial partners to join the mission as the concept evolves. 

Watzin added saying that human and robotic exploration go hand in hand, with the latter helping pave the way for smarter, safer human missions farther into the solar system. He said, "Together, we can help prepare humanity for our next giant leap — the first human mission to Mars.”

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