Wednesday January 17, 2018

NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) likely to bring astronauts closer to Mars

The milestone, known as Key Decision Point-B (KDP-B) was conducted in July and formally approved by the agency on August 15

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Aerial View of NASA. Wikimedia
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  • The agency plans to announce the specific asteroid selected for the mission no earlier than 2019, approximately a year before launching the robotic spacecraft
  • NASA has identified three valid asteroids for the mission so far: Itokawa, Bennu and 2008 EV5
  • The robotic component of the ARM will demonstrate the world’s most advanced and most efficient solar electric propulsion system as it travels to a near-Earth asteroid (NEA)

August 16, 2016: US space agency NASA has approved the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) to proceed to the next phase of design and development for the mission’s robotic segment, in its bid to send a manned flight to Mars.

ARM is a two-part mission that will integrate robotic and crewed spacecraft operations in the proving ground of deep space to demonstrate key capabilities needed for NASA’s journey to Mars.

For ARM, a robotic spacecraft will capture a boulder from the surface of a near-Earth asteroid and move it into a stable orbit around the moon for exploration by astronauts, all in support of advancing the nation’s journey to Mars.

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“There, astronauts will be able to select, extract, collect and return samples from the multi-ton asteroid mass, and conduct other human-robotic and spacecraft operations in the proving ground that will validate concepts for NASA’s journey to Mars,” NASA said in a statement.

The option to retrieve a boulder from an asteroid will have a direct impact on planning for future human missions to deep space and begin a new era of spaceflight.

The 'Option A' was to deploy a container large enough to capture a free-flying asteroid up to 8 m (26 ft) in diameter. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
The ‘Option A’ was to deploy a container large enough to capture a free-flying asteroid up to 8 m (26 ft) in diameter. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The agency plans to announce the specific asteroid selected for the mission no earlier than 2019, approximately a year before launching the robotic spacecraft.

NASA has identified three valid asteroids for the mission so far: Itokawa, Bennu and 2008 EV5.

The milestone, known as Key Decision Point-B (KDP-B) was conducted in July and formally approved by the agency on August 15.

“This is an exciting milestone for the Asteroid Redirect Mission. Not only is ARM leveraging agency-wide capabilities, it will test a number of new technologies already in development,” saidNASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot.

The robotic ARM will demonstrate advanced, high-power, high-throughput solar electric propulsion and advanced autonomous high-speed proximity operations at a low-gravity planetary body.

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It will also showcase touchdown and liftoff with a multi-ton mass from a low-gravity planetary body and astronaut activities for sample selection, extraction, containment, and return – all key components of future in-space operations for human missions to Mars.

Before beginning its trip to lunar orbit, the ARM spacecraft will demonstrate a widely supported asteroid deflection technique called a gravity tractor.

The spacecraft plus the mass of the captured boulder will create a small gravitational attraction to alter the orbit of the large asteroid.

The robotic component of the ARM will demonstrate the world’s most advanced and most efficient solar electric propulsion system as it travels to a near-Earth asteroid (NEA).

NEAs are asteroids that are fewer than 121 million miles from the Sun at the closest point in their orbit. (IANS)

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Scientists spot massive ice deposits on Mars

Recent observations by MRO's ground-penetrating Shallow Radar instrument revealed a buried ice layer that covers more ground than the state of New Mexico.

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Scientists found layers of ice on the surface of Mars. Wikimedia Commons
  • Recently, scientists have found layers of ice on the Martian land.
  • Scientists think this ice might be a useful source of water for future humans.
  • The researchers had researched 8 locations on the surface of Mars.

Scientists have unearthed thick and massive deposits of ice in some regions on Mars.

The images taken by the High-Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) showed the three-dimensional structure of massive ice deposits on Mars.

The ice sheets extend from just below the surface to a depth of 100 meters or more and appear to contain distinct layers.

It extending downward from depths as shallow as 1 to 2 meters below the surface, which could preserve a record of Mars’ past climate, the researchers noted in the journal Science.

This ice which was found can help scientists understand the climate history of Mars. IANS
This ice which was found can help scientists understand the climate history of Mars. IANS

“We expect the vertical structure of Martian ice-rich deposits to preserve a record of ice deposition and past climate,” said Colin M. Dundas, from the US Geological Survey.

“They might even be a useful source of water for future human exploration of the red planet,” Dundas added.

The researchers investigated eight locations on Mars and found thick deposits cover broad regions of the Martian mid-latitudes with a smooth mantle.

However, erosion in these regions creates scarps that expose the internal structure of the mantle.

The scarps are actively retreating because of sublimation of the exposed water ice.

The layers of ice can be used as water source by future humans on Mars, VOA
The layers of ice can be used as water source by future humans on Mars, VOA

The ice deposits likely originated as snowfall during Mars’ high-obliquity periods and have now compacted into massive, fractured, and layered ice.

Previous researchers have revealed that the Red Planet harbours subsurface water ice.

Recent observations by MRO’s ground-penetrating Shallow Radar instrument revealed a buried ice layer that covers more ground than the state of New Mexico.

NASA’s Phoenix lander had also dug up some ice near the Martian north pole in 2008, however, it is not clear if that is part of the big sheet. IANS