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NASA Rocket Launch Tests Supersonic Parachute for Mars Rover Landings

The Mars 2020 rover mission is scheduled to launch in July/August 2020 when Earth and Mars are in good positions relative to each other for landing on Mars

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NASA has launched a sounding rocket from the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia to test a supersonic parachute for landing its next rover on Mars.

The rocket launched on Friday carried the Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment (ASPIRE) from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

The payload descended by parachute and splashed-down in the Atlantic Ocean 28 miles from Wallops Island, NASA said.

The parachute was successfully recovered and returned to Wallops for data retrieval and inspection.

The suborbital launch was designed to mimic conditions that the parachute might experience during a Mars landing, Space.com reported.

NASA Mars
The parachute was successfully recovered and returned to Wallops for data retrieval and inspection. VOA

“This is really a strength test of that Mars 2020 (rover) design,” Jeremy Hill, a mechanical engineer at JPL, was quoted as saying during a webcast of the launch.

“We want to get as close to the Martian environment as we can.”

The payload is a bullet-nosed, cylindrical structure holding a supersonic parachute, the parachute’s deployment mechanism, and the test’s high-definition instrumentation — including cameras — to record data.

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The Mars 2020 rover mission is scheduled to launch in July/August 2020 when Earth and Mars are in good positions relative to each other for landing on Mars.

The mission takes the next step in addressing questions about potential for life on Mars by not only seeking signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, but also searching for signs of past microbial life itself. (IANS)

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NASA’s Probe Discovers Signs Of Water on Asteroid Bennu

OSIRIS-REx will pass later this month just 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from Bennu, entering the asteroid's gravitational pull and analyzing its terrain.

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This Nov. 16, 2018, image provide by NASA shows the asteroid Bennu. NASA

NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft has discovered ingredients for water on a relatively nearby skyscraper-sized asteroid, a rocky acorn-shaped object that may hold clues to the origins of life on Earth, scientists said on Monday.

OSIRIS-REx, which flew last week within a scant 12 miles (19 km) of the asteroid Bennu some 1.4 million miles (2.25 million km) from Earth, found traces of hydrogen and oxygen molecules — part of the recipe for water and thus the potential for life — embedded in the asteroid’s rocky surface.

The probe, on a mission to return samples from the asteroid to Earth for study, was launched in 2016. Bennu, roughly a third of a mile wide (500 meters), orbits the sun at roughly the same distance as Earth. There is concern among scientists about the possibility of Bennu impacting Earth late in the 22nd century.

 

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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx. Flickr

 

“We have found the water-rich minerals from the early solar system, which is exactly the kind of sample we were going out there to find and ultimately bring back to Earth,” University of Arizona planetary scientist Dante Lauretta, the OSIRIS-REx mission’s principal investigator, said in a telephone interview.

Asteroids are among the leftover debris from the solar system’s formation some 4.5 billion years ago. Scientists believe asteroids and comets crashing into early Earth may have delivered organic compounds and water that seeded the planet for life, and atomic-level analysis of samples from Bennu could provide key evidence to support that hypothesis.

“When samples of this material are returned by the mission to Earth in 2023, scientists will receive a treasure trove of new information about the history and evolution of our solar system,” Amy Simon, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in a statement.

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This illustration provided by NASA depicts the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft at the asteroid Bennu. The rocky remnant from the dawn of the solar system may hold clues to the origins of life. VOA

“We’re really trying to understand the role that these carbon-rich asteroids played in delivering water to the early Earth and making it habitable,” Lauretta added.

OSIRIS-REx will pass later this month just 1.2 miles (1.9 km) from Bennu, entering the asteroid’s gravitational pull and analyzing its terrain. From there, the spacecraft will begin to gradually tighten its orbit around the asteroid, spiraling to within just 6 feet (2 meters) of its surface so its robot arm can snatch a sample of Bennu by July 2020.

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The spacecraft will later fly back to Earth, jettisoning a capsule bearing the asteroid specimen for a parachute descent in the Utah desert in September 2023. (VOA)