The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has presented a draft strategy for the long-term robotic exploration of Mars. The agency’s proposed plan emphasizes relatively low-cost missions and potential partnerships with private companies.
Eric Ianson, director of the Mars Exploration Program, this week outlined the main points of the strategy, which involves the implementation of Martian missions with a stable frequency. “We wanted to look two decades into the future to see what we can do to make something as impressive as bringing back Martian soil samples. We propose to do this at a lower cost and with a higher frequency of missions,” Janson said.
NASA’s new strategy is called Collaborative Exploration of Mars. It involves the organization of what the department calls a “sustainable” series of Martian missions. The implementation of the strategy is planned for a period that will begin after samples of Martian soil are delivered to Earth at the end of this decade as part of the agency’s current program for the study of the Red Planet. Currently, NASA plans to implement only one robotic mission to explore Mars. We are talking about a project to study the planet’s magnetosphere, which was called Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers and is scheduled for the end of 2024.
“Historically, we have had ups and downs in the Mars program. When we talk about sustainable development, this is exactly what can remain constant throughout time. We want to try to keep the launch of missions at a regular pace,” Janson said. He explained that his words mean NASA’s intention to conduct relatively inexpensive Martian missions about once every two years.
It is expected that each such mission will cost from $100 million to $300 million. In addition, the agency will support the implementation of mid-range missions, such as, for example, the launch of a robotic lander worth more than $1 billion as part of the Mars Life Explorer program. In addition to this, smaller scale projects implemented together with international partners and private companies will be supported. NASA will continue to search for signs that life existed on Mars in the distant past, and will also study the climate and geology of the planet, including for the implementation of manned missions with the participation of astronauts in the future.
Another element of NASA’s strategy involves updating the aging infrastructure of the orbiters that provide communication and imagery of the surface of Mars. The department plans to launch a new satellite to Mars for relaying data and shooting in the first half of the next decade. The department believes that work within the framework of updating the satellite infrastructure can open up new opportunities for cooperation with private enterprises.
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