NASA has announced that it will move ahead with plans to send new crafts to the red planet in the next few years.
NASA has announced that it will move forward with plans to conduct concept studies for a new Mars orbiter to be launched by 2022. According to a report from GeekWire, NASA has selected five aerospace companies including American firm Boeing to submit concept studies for a telecommunications orbiter that would drastically improve the agency’s ability to gather and transmit data from the red planet.
Other firms involved include Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Northrop Grumman, Orbital ATK and Space Systems/Loral. The project will be overseen by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
According to Geoffrey Yoder, the agnecy’s associate administrator for science, “We’re excited to continue planning for the next decade of Mars exploration.”
NASA hopes to commission an orbiter that would allow advanced telecom abilities in addition to large-scale high-resolution imaging of the planet. The new gear would be a significant upgrade from the current orbiters and their accompanying rovers studying Mars. Currently, the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers transmit data to the Mars Odyssey orbiter and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, launched in 2001 and 2005 respectively.
NASA also plans to pair the new orbiter with an all-new rover that aims to study rocks and sediments on Mars to search for evidence of past life. The rover would have the ability to collect samples and return them to researchers here on Earth.
The rover will draw inspiration from Curiosity, but will have a completely overhauled system for collecting and storing samples. Reports indicate that the probe will be equipped with a robotic arm with a coring drill that will allow it to dig deep into the Martian crust. The rover will also be equipped with all-new cameras and microphones to record the sights and sounds of Mars for the first time.
NASA continues to prepare for the upcoming exploration of Mars, but it remains to be seen if the agency will meet its goal of placing astronauts there by the 2030’s.
A press release from NASA describing the details of the decision can be found here.