The space agency just took a giant leap for mankind.
Mankind just took one giant step toward Mars thanks to NASA, and there’s no sign of looking back anytime soon.
NASA has announced it has commissioned five U.S. aerospace companies with conducting concept studies for the future Mars orbiter mission. It’s not the first orbiter to head to Mars, but this one is different: it would be part of an effort to support the next stages of the manned journey to Mars, which is planned for the late 2030s, according to a NASA statement.
This award marks the start of a huge new phase in planning for the next decades of Mars exploration. NASA chose the following five companies to develop concept studies: Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Space Systems/Loral, Lockheed Martin and Orbital ATK. They will need to show how the Mars orbiter mission could provide communications, imaging and operational capabilities.
The current orbiters circling Mars are getting old. NASA depends on them for 95 percent of Martian data, as the remaining 5 percent beamed straight from Mars takes forever to get to Earth.
This orbiter would be more than a replacement, though, as it would have enhanced capabilities and would be aimed at assisting a future manned mission to Mars.
“The concept studies will address how a potential new Mars orbiter mission could best provide communications, imaging and operational capabilities,” the NASA statement reads. “They also will assess the possibilities for supporting additional scientific instruments and functionalities, in addition to optical communications. The orbiter concept under study would take advantage of U.S. industry’s technology capacities by using solar electric propulsion to provide flexible launch, mission and orbit capabilities.
“The Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group, an organization designed to provide input to NASA from the Mars research science community, published a report six months ago on recommended science objectives for a Mars orbiter,” it continues. “These studies will provide input for assessing the feasibility of addressing these objectives. NASA also is pursuing partnership interest in contributing to this potential mission.”