NASA stages for next chapter of Mars exploration with 2020 landing site

Audrey Hill
November 24, 2018

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, CA - MAY 03: The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-V rocket is seen with NASA's InSight spacecraft onboard, Thursday, May 3, 2018, at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Part of this is due to the thin Martian atmosphere, which is only 1% of Earth's, so there's nothing to slow down something trying to land on the surface.

"During the same time that life started on Earth, life could have started on Mars", he added. MarCO is now being tested away for future missions to send back data on their entry, descent and landing.

NASA's InSight spacecraft is on track for a soft touchdown on the surface of the Red Planet on November 26, scientists monitoring the health and trajectory of the lander have said.

If these pipsqueaks manage to relay InSight's radio signals to ground controllers almost 100 million miles (160 million kilometres) away, we'll know within minutes whether the spacecraft landed safely.

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There are various factors that NASA needed to consider while choosing an arrival site.

The lander will enter Mars' atmosphere and land on a flat equatorial plain north of the planet's equator known as the Elysium Planitia.

"Mars is really the obvious place, after the Moon, to go and expand our presence in deep space", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's science mission directorate.

For the first time in six years, a new mission is about to land on Mars.

The USD 2.5 billion rover - a joint project of the European Space Agency and NASA - is set to launch in July 2020, and land in February 2021. Midway and Northeast Syrtis are close enough that it's possible the Mars 2020 rover could eventually roll that way from Jezero Crater, although mission managers say it's way too early to decide whether to do so. This is why the agency considered sending CubeSats as they could help to monitor the landing of spacecraft without further shortening the lives of bigger orbiters. Insight will try to answer crucial scientific questions on Mars interior and how it is different from the one of our planet. Instead, it will use a number of instruments and its seven-foot-long robotic arm to drill about 16 feet below the surface. It also has seismometer and thermometer in order to measure the frequency and magnitude of marsquakes.

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