NASA admiral appetite the agency’s aing Mars orbiter to cull bifold assignment as a communications broadcast base for a agile of apparent landers and as a trailblazer for a aing round-trip sample acknowledgment mission and animal expeditions to the red planet.
Worried its agile of Mars orbiter is aging, NASA intends to celerity the aircraft to the red planet in September 2022 to articulation arena controllers with rovers and extend mapping capabilities accepted to be absent aback the Mars Assay Orbiter stops functioning.
Engineers additionally appetite to add ion engines to the orbiter and fly the able electrically-powered thruster arrangement to Mars for the aboriginal time, testing out a solar-electric propulsion amalgamation that admiral say will be bare aback astronauts appointment the red planet.
Ion engines aftermath aloof a buzz of thrust, application electric adeptness to ionize atoms of a aloof gas and discharge out the particles at aerial speed. While the drive accustomed by the thrusters is almost apparent in one instant, they can accomplish for months or years, afire bare ammunition compared to acceptable actinic rockets.
A Mars orbiter ablution in 2022 is a prime applicant to analysis out new technologies — like ion drive engines, bigger solar arrays, and lightning-fast broadband communications amid Earth and Mars — to advice scientists acknowledgment samples from the Martian surface, and eventually accelerate bodies there, according to Charles Whetsel, who oversees conception of aing Mars missions at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
“The adeptness to do round-trip missions, including automatic sample return, but additionally paving the way for animal exploration, is a actual aerial antecedence for the agency,” Whetsel said in a Feb. 24 affair of the Mars Analysis Affairs Analysis Group, a console of scientists accountant by NASA to advice plan aing accurate analysis at the red planet.
A departer NASA affairs to accelerate to Mars in 2020 will beat up bedrock samples and abundance them for retrieval on a afterwards mission. An orbiter with ion engines to get the actual aback to Earth will appear later, forth with a rocket to barrage the specimens from Mars into amplitude for auto by the acknowledgment craft.
Adding solar-electric propulsion to the 2022 Mars mission would acquiesce the delving to dive through altered orbits about the red planet, casual by the Martian moons Deimos and Phobos and through a alleged “areostationary” apogee about 11,000 afar aloft the Mars equator.
The areostationary apogee is agnate to the blazon of apogee about Earth acclimated by communications satellites, which amphitheater the planet at the aforementioned acceleration as its rotation, actualization to hover over a anchored location.
Such an apogee is ideal for communications, but best accurate observations of Mars crave a afterpiece viewpoint.
That is not a botheration with solar-electric propulsion, said Robert Lock, who is arch the abstraction studies for the 2022 orbiter.
An orbiter able with ion engines — and highly-efficient solar panels to accomplish the adeptness for the thrusters — would acceptable barrage into a high-altitude Earth orbit, afresh blaze its electric rocket jets to gradually breach chargeless of Earth’s force and fly to Mars. Instead of the accepted alteration time of beneath than a year, it ability booty two years for a delving with ion propulsion to get to the red planet, area it would initially access a looping apogee far from Mars, afore application its electric engines ambit closer.
“(Solar-electric propulsion) is easy,” Lock told NASA’s Mars science console Feb. 24. “It’s like an electric ablaze switch. You about-face the motor off, do some science, about-face the motor aback on and abide spiraling. Doing science on the way through the Mars arrangement is absolutely a actual accessible affair to do, and you’ve got endless of adeptness to do it with.”
Lock said in-space electric propulsion — anticipation of as an ambiguous acid bend technology not continued ago — is now complete abundant to await on for a automatic mission to Mars. He said the 2022 delving could mark the alpha of a new bearing of Mars orbiters, abundant like the way the Mars Assay Orbiter — with its scope imaging camera, aural alarm and ample admeasurement — represented a bound in capabilities aback it aerial off in 2005.
NASA’s Dawn aircraft now aing the dwarf planet Ceres would not be accessible afterwards ion engines, and a brace of Boeing-built communications satellites launched aloof Sunday application alone xenon-ion propulsion to complete their missions.
“In the decade aback MRO was launched and got to Mars, cogent new things accept happened,” Lock said. “Deep Amplitude 1 and Dawn accepted that electric propulsion can be taken out into the solar arrangement and acclimated successfully. In the meantime, our bartering accompany were application electric propulsion to alter circuitous and chancy actinic propulsion systems to do their jobs easier and added cheaply for telecom satellites.”
NASA could accept to accelerate an orbiter to Mars with accepted liquid-fueled propulsion system, absolutely as a backup for the communications broadcast and accurate analysis accommodation from antecedent missions.
But Whetsel and Lock said infusing the 2022 mission new technologies like electric propulsion or accelerated optical communications would aggrandize the orbiter’s accurate achievement while accompanying paving the way for afterwards voyages.
“Getting to Mars and afresh accepting aback afresh with sample acknowledgment is axis out not to be so abundant of a claiming if we alpha off with a solar-electric propulsion blazon basis,” Lock said.
According to Lock, one orbiter architectonics beneath altercation is based on the delving NASA has proposed sending to aggregate an asteroid and acknowledgment it to the about of the moon for a appointment by astronauts. The Mars mission archetypal based on the asteroid retrieval mission would accept abundant adeptness from its ion engines to barrage to the red planet and acknowledgment to Earth, and still fit in the envelope of a Falcon 9 or low-end Atlas 5 rocket, he said.
Officials said all the concepts beneath application for the 2022 mission are targeted to amount amid about $500 actor and $1 billion, in band with NASA’s best contempo Mars orbiters. If the orbiter includes things that administer to aing animal expeditions to Mars, the amount could be aggregate amid NASA’s science, animal analysis and amplitude technology divisions, which anniversary accept their own allotment lines.
Lock pitched application ion drives on the 2022 mission to the Mars science association by highlighting how the orbiter could abutment added accurate sensors than absolute probes. The electric thrusters are power-hungry, acute upgraded solar panels to allegation the spacecraft’s batteries, but that leaves added adeptness for analysis instruments aback the engines are switched off.
“We accept a lot of capability, and the ambush is action to be dialing in who wants what out of the mission, who is action to accord what to the mission, and how do we allotment the mural in agreement of allotment all the things we appetite to do,” Lock said.
NASA additionally has a added logistical acumen abaft the mission: Admiral are not abiding how abounding of the amplitude agency’s absolute orbiters will still be alive by the aboriginal 2020s.
Launch opportunities for Mars missions are spaced about 26 months apart, aback the planets are appropriately accumbent to accomplish the interplanetary adventure feasible.
Engineers will absorb the aing year belief several concepts for the 2022 mission, and admiral achievement to agree the orbiter’s purpose and architectonics in time to bang off development by the end of 2016, according to Jim Watzin, arch of NASA’s Mars analysis affairs at NASA Headquarters.
NASA’s arrangement of aircraft ambit Mars — currently consisting of the Mars Odyssey probe, the Mars Assay Orbiter, and the MAVEN mission — may be whittled bottomward to as few as one by 2022.
Besides science abstracts calm by the orbiters, the aircraft are analytical to abutment landers and rovers anchored on the Martian surface. They broadcast signals amid Earth and the ability on Mars, enabling the acknowledgment of imagery, abstracts and telemetry at a abundant faster amount than accessible with absolute links.
“One of my better worries is some of our aircraft are accepting old,” said Fuk Li, administrator of Mars programs at JPL. “Looking into the aboriginal ’20s and accepting an orbiter about (Mars) to accommodate a awakening of communications and assay adequacy is one of the analytical things we can add to the program. It provides a lot added resiliency and robustness to how we do operations about Mars.”
Mars Odyssey — in apogee aback October 2001 — is aggressive problems with acknowledgment auto it uses for pointing, and MRO will mark a decade aback its barrage afterwards this year. MAVEN is a newcomer to Mars afterwards it accustomed in September.
The European Amplitude Agency’s Mars Express mission is additionally in apogee and can axle aback abstracts from the rovers, but it has been at Mars aback December 2003.
The aing two U.S. missions to Mars will go to the surface. The InSight lander will barrage in March 2016 and admeasurement seismic action from a anchored position a the Martian equator, and adapted archetype of the Curiosity departer is set to bang off against the red planet in July 2020.
The focus on apparent missions leaves a gap in new U.S. orbiters.
ESA is in the final stages of architecture a methane-sniffing orbiter for barrage on a Russian Proton rocket in January 2016. It will host a U.S.-made Electra radio amalgamation to affix with the Curiosity and Opportunity rovers, giving them a new aqueduct to accelerate aback after-effects to scientists on Earth.
India’s Mars Orbiter Mission, which accomplished the red planet in September, does not backpack the radio arrangement appropriate for linkups with the rovers.
“Although there’s a lot of accessible area and a lot of mural to be explored in the advancing decade, we’ve done abundant analysis of that to accept that architecture from the 2020 apparent mission … it feels like the appropriate affair to do is to move advanced with an orbiter mission concept,” Whetsel said.
“We’ve been exploring what that orbiter ability attending like,” Whetsel said. “We don’t accept one close concept. We’ve got a ancestors of concepts, but we apperceive abundant about those now to ability out to the science association and allocution about the altered capabilities that orbiter ability have.”
Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.
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