The ten most promising mission concepts of the 43 proposed to NASA for possible launch to Mars in 2007 were selected today to receive funding for six months of continued studies.
Included in the ten concepts selected for study are missions to return samples of martian atmospheric dust and gas, networks of small landers, orbiting constellations of small craft, and a rover that would attempt to establish absolute surface ages of rocks and soils.
NASA plans to evaluate the ten innovative concepts using rapid six-month studies as a means for jump-starting the identification of new Mars Scout missions that will compete for a possible launch in 2007. The proposals were submitted to NASA's Mars Exploration Program in the Office of Space Science in Washington, DC, in response to a call for proposals in March 2001. Those selected will receive up to $150,000 each for the study.
"These Scout concepts embody the spirit I first thought about more than one year ago, and will enable us to explore the diversity of Mars in new ways," said Dr. Ed Weiler, Associate Administrator for Space Science. Weiler selected the ten winners on the basis of overall scientific merit and potential for implementation under a total mission cost cap of $300 million.
"All of us in the Mars Program are thrilled with the response by the community with such incredible ideas," said Dr. Jim Garvin, Lead Scientist for the Mars Exploration Program. "These ten mission concepts provide revolutionary new vantage points and tools for exploring the new Mars that has emerged from the observations of the Mars Global Surveyor."
Next year, NASA plans to initiate a competition for small "Scout" missions to the Red Planet to broadly involve the scientific and aerospace communities in the Mars Exploration Program. "We have used this opportunity to be as inclusive as possible to engage the broadest possible cross-section of the community," said Orlando Figueroa, Mars Program Director. The ten concepts selected today will not be given any advantage in that competition.
The selected mission concepts, and the Principal Investigators, are:
* SCIM (Sample Collection for Investigation of Mars): Professor Laurie Leshin, Arizona State University, Tempe. This innovative mission would sample atmospheric dust and gas using aerogel and use a "free-return trajectory" to bring the samples back to Earth.
* KittyHawk: Professor Wendy Calvin, University of Nevada- Reno. A mission involving three gliders would explore the composition and stratigraphy of the walls of Valles Marineris in ways not possible for orbiters and landers.
* Urey: Dr. Jeff Plescia, U.S. Geological Survey, Flagstaff, AZ. A surface rover would allow the absolute ages of geological materials to be remotely determined for the first time on any planet.
* MACO (Mars Atmospheric Constellation Observatory): Professor Robert Kursinski, University of Arizona, Tucson. A network of micro-satellites as a constellation around Mars would characterize the 3-D structure of the atmosphere, giving a new look at martian climatology.
* Artemis: Professor David Paige, University of California, Los Angeles. Three small landers and micro-rovers on the martian surface, with two directed to the polar regions, would explore the surface and shallow subsurface for water, organic materials and climate.
* MEO (Mars Environmental Observer): Dr. M. Janssen, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA. This science orbiter would intensively explore the role of water, dust, ice and other materials within the martian atmosphere to understand parts of the hydrologic cycle.
* Pascal: Dr. Rob Haberle, NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. A network of 24 weather stations on the martian surface would provide more than two years of continuous monitoring of humidity, pressure and temperature and other measurements.
* Mars Scout Radar: Dr. Bruce Campbell, Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC. An orbiter mission would use Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imaging to map the surface geomorphology and very shallow subsurface (three to five meters deep), to detect buried water channels and other features.
* The Naiades: Dr. Bob Grimm, Blackhawk GeoServices, Golden, CO. Four landers will explore for subsurface liquid water using a novel low-frequency sounding method.
* CryoScout: Dr. Frank Carsey, JPL. This mission, designed to use heated water jets to descend through martian polar ice caps, could potentially probe to depths of tens to hundreds of meters while measuring composition and searching for organic compounds.