NASA and three international partners have signed a declaration of intent to advance a possible robotic ice-mapping mission to Mars, which could help identify abundant and accessible ice for future candidate landing sites on the Red Planet. .
The agencies agreed to establish a joint concept team to assess the potential of the mission, as well as partnership opportunities.
As part of the statement, NASA, the Italian Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency announced their intention to develop a mission plan and define their potential roles and responsibilities. If the concept advances, the mission could be ready to launch as early as 2026.
The international Mars Ice Mapper mission would detect the location, depth, spatial extent, and abundance of near-surface ice deposits, allowing the scientific community to interpret a more detailed volatile history of Mars.
The radar-carrying orbiter would also help identify the properties of dust, loose rock material – known as regolith – and rock layers that could impact the ability to access ice.
The ice-mapping mission could help the agency identify potential science targets for the first human missions to Mars, which are expected to be designed for around 30 days of surface exploration.
For example, the identification and characterization of accessible water ice could lead to human science, such as ice coring to support the search for life.
Mars Ice Mapper could also provide a map of water ice resources for subsequent human missions with longer surface expeditions, as well as to help meet exploration engineering constraints, such as hazard avoidance. related to rocks and terrain.
Shallow-water ice mapping could also support additional high-value science goals related to Martian climatology and geology.
“This innovative partnership model for Mars Ice Mapper combines our global experience and enables cost sharing at all levels to make this mission more achievable for all interested parties,” said Jim Watzin, NASA Senior Advisor for Architectures agency and mission alignment. “Human exploration and robotics go hand in hand, the latter helping to pave the way for smarter and safer human missions further into the solar system. Together, we can help prepare humanity for our next giant leap – the first human mission to Mars. “
As the concept of a mission evolves, other space agencies and business partners may have the opportunity to join the mission.
Beyond promoting scientific observations while the orbiter completes its reconnaissance work, the agency’s partners will explore carpooling opportunities enabling the mission as part of their next phase of study. All scientific data from the mission would be made available to the international scientific community for planetary science and Mars reconnaissance.
This approach is similar to what NASA does on the moon as part of the Artemis program – sending astronauts to the lunar south pole, where ice is trapped in permanently shaded regions of the pole.
Access to water ice would also be at the heart of scientific investigations on the surface of Mars carried out by future human explorers. Such explorers could one day core, sample and analyze the ice to better understand the record of climate and geological changes on Mars and its astrobiological potential, which could be revealed by signs of preserved ancient microbial life or even the possibility of organisms. alive, if Mars has always sheltered life.
Ice is also an essential natural resource that could potentially provide hydrogen and oxygen for fuel. These items could also provide resources for relief life support, civil engineering, mining, manufacturing and possibly agriculture on Mars. Transporting water from Earth to deep space is extremely expensive, so a local resource is essential for sustainable surface exploration.
“In addition to supporting plans for future human missions to Mars, learning more about underground ice will provide important opportunities for scientific discovery,” said Eric Ianson, deputy director of NASA’s planetary science division and director of the Mars exploration program. “Mapping near-surface water ice would reveal a still-hidden part of the Martian hydrosphere and the stratification above it, which may help uncover the history of environmental changes on Mars and lead to our ability to answer fundamental questions about whether Mars was ever home to microbial life or could still be today.
The Red Planet provides great research feedback for robotic exploration and the search for ancient life in our solar system. This latest news precedes the agency’s Perseverance rover landing on Mars, which is scheduled to take place on February 18, after a seven-month trip to space. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) also recently announced that they are moving forward with the Mars Sample Return mission.
Learn more about NASA’s Mars exploration at https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars/main and https://www.nasa.gov/topics/moon-to-mars.