1 Selecting the Landing Site for NASA's MSL on Sat Sep 11, 2010 7:41 pm
|[You must be registered and logged in to see this image.]||Figure 1. Artist’s rendition of the Mars Science Laboratory rover.2||CEPS Staff:|
Dr. John Grant
The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission is the next step in NASA's Mars Exploration Program following the Mars Exploration Rovers, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and Phoenix missions. Scheduled to launch in 2011, the MSL rover will arrive at Mars in 20121. The main objective of the MSL mission is to "assess habitability" of both Mars' past and present environments1. The Mars Landing site steering committee, co-chaired by Dr. John Grant, is currently leading the MSL landing site selection process and the final location will likely be decided by NASA Headquarters in early 2011.
This mission is rich with technological advancements starting with the new innovative landing procedure and extending to the types of instruments loaded onto the very capable rover. The landing will involve the descent of the spacecraft by parachute and immediately prior to landing, the lowering of the rover on a tether to the surface1. The MSL rover will be equipped to roll over obstacles up to 75 cm high. Through scooping and drilling the surface, the rover will be able to collect soil and rock samples that can be chemically analyzed in situ in test-chambers on the rover. To assess past habitability at the landing site, sample analyses will focus on identifying organic components, such as proteins and amino acids, and atmospheric gases essential for life. A few of the instruments incorporated into the rover structure include the Mast Camera, the ChemCam, the Sample Analysis at Mars Instrument Suite, Radiation Assessment Detector, and the Rover Environmental Monitoring program1.
A process to select the landing site for MSL is co-convened and co-chaired by Dr. Grant of CEPS. The process began in 2006 and will end in 2011 after a series of four or five community workshops and exhaustive evaluation by the MSL Science Teams and Project at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. By involving the broad science community in these workshops, the process ensures identification of a landing site that meets all the specified engineering and safety requirements, as well as providing the greatest scientific value2. The first workshop culminated in the presentation of 33 proposal sites2. The second workshop involved narrowing the selection down to 6 potential sites (Nili Fossae Trough, Holden Crater, Mawrth Vallis, and Miyamoto Crater, Eberswalde Crater, and North Meridiani Planum) and relied heavily on data provided by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). The third workshop narrowed the list further to include Holden crater, Eberswalde crater, Mawrth Vallis, and Gale crater2. The final site will be selected after additional evaluation of science potential and consideration of any potential hazards to landing or roving after landing. It is anticipated that there will be a fourth community landing site workshop in early 2010 followed by a fifth workshop either late in 2010 or early in 2011.
1. NASA Jet propulsion Laboratory (2008). [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
2. NASA Marsoweb (2008). [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
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