Home South pole ice NASA extends exploration for 8 planetary science missions – Substantial potential for new discoveries

NASA extends exploration for 8 planetary science missions – Substantial potential for new discoveries


An illustration shows our solar system (not to scale). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Among the missions selected for expansion are InSight, " data-gt-translate-attributes="[{" attribute="">March Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey and Curiosity, all of which have been essential in expanding our understanding of the Red Planet.

After careful consideration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. It's vision is "To discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity."

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{” attribute=””>Nasa extended the planetary science missions of 8 of its spacecraft because of their scientific productivity and their potential to advance our knowledge and understanding of the solar system and beyond.

The missions – Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MAVEN, Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity rover), InSight Lander, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, OSIRIS-REx and New Horizons – have been selected for pursuit, assuming their spacecraft remain in good health. health. Most assignments will be extended for 3 years; however, OSIRIS-REx will continue for 9 years in order to reach a new destination, and InSight will continue until the end of 2022, unless the electrical power of the craft allows longer operations.

Each extended mission proposal was reviewed by a panel of independent experts from academia, industry and NASA. In total, more than 50 reviewers assessed the scientific return of the respective proposals. Two independent review chairs oversaw the process and, based on the panel’s assessments, confirmed that these 8 science missions held substantial potential to continue to deliver new discoveries and address compelling new scientific questions.

In addition to providing significant programmatic benefits to NASA, several of these missions promise multidivisional science benefits across NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD), including their use as data relays for landers. and Mars surface rovers, as well as to support other NASA initiatives such as Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS).

“Extended missions provide us with the opportunity to leverage NASA’s significant investments in exploration, allowing science operations to continue at a cost far below the cost of developing a new mission,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Maximizing taxpayer dollars in this way allows missions to gain valuable new science data and, in some cases, allows NASA to explore new targets with entirely new science goals.”

Two of the extended missions, MAVEN and OSIRIS-REx, welcome new Principal Investigators (PIs).

NASA OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission

NASA OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

OSIRIS-APEX (Principal Investigator: Dr. Daniella DellaGiustina, University of Arizona): The Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) mission is currently on its way back to Earth to deliver the samples from asteroid Bennu it collected in 2020. Dante Lauretta, OSIRIS- REx PI, will remain in place for the main mission, while DellaGiustina begins her role as newly appointed PI for OSIRIS-APophis EXplorer (OSIRIS-APEX). With a new name to reflect the new objectives of the extended mission, the OSIRIS-APEX team will redirect the spacecraft to encounter Apophis, an asteroid approximately 1,200 feet (about 370 meters) in diameter that will come within 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometers) from Earth in 2029. OSIRIS-APEX will enter orbit around Apophis shortly after the asteroid’s Earth flyby, providing an unprecedented close look at this S-type asteroid. It plans to study the changes in the asteroid caused by its close flyby of Earth and to use the spacecraft’s gas thrusters to attempt to dislodge and study dust and small rocks on and below Apophis’ surface.

NASA's MAVEN Mars spacecraft

This illustration shows NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft and the limb of Mars. Credit: NASA/Goddard

MAVEN (Principal Investigator: Dr Shannon Curry, University of California, Berkeley): The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission plans to study the interaction between the atmosphere and the magnetic field of Mars during the next solar maximum. MAVEN’s observations as the Sun’s activity level increases toward the peak of its 11-year cycle will deepen our understanding of how Mars’ upper atmosphere and magnetic field interact with the Sun.

NASA Mars Insight

This illustration shows NASA’s Mars InSight lander on the Martian surface. Credit: NASA

InSight (Principal Investigator: Dr. Bruce Banerdt, JPL): Since landing on Mars in 2018, the Inland Exploration using Seismic, Geodetic and Heat Transport (InSight) mission has operated the only active seismic station beyond Earth. His seismic monitoring of “marsquakes” has provided constraints on the interior, formation and current activity of Mars. The extended mission will continue InSight’s seismic and weather monitoring if the spacecraft remains in good condition. However, due to dust accumulation on its solar panels, InSight’s power generation is low and the mission is unlikely to continue operations for the duration of its current extended mission unless its solar panels are cleaned by a “dust devil” passing on Mars. atmosphere.

NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been studying the Moon since June 2009. Credit: NASA

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) (Project Scientist: Dr Noah Petro, GSFC): LRO will continue to study the surface and geology of the Moon. The evolution of LRO’s orbit will allow it to study new regions far from the poles in unprecedented detail, including permanently shaded regions (PSRs) near the poles where water ice can be found. LRO will also provide significant programmatic support to NASA’s efforts to return to the Moon.

Curiosity Rock Hall Selfie

A selfie taken by NASA’s Curiosity rover on Sol 2291 at the “Rock Hall” drill site, located on Vera Rubin Ridge. The selfie is made up of 57 individual images taken by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), a camera on the end of the rover’s robotic arm. Credit: NASA/Caltech-JPL/MSSS

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) (Project Scientist: Dr. Ashwin Vasavada, JPL): The Mars Science Laboratory and its Curiosity rover have traveled more than 27 km across the surface of Mars, exploring the history of habitability in Gale Crater. In its fourth extended mission, MSL will climb to higher altitudes, exploring critical sulfate-bearing layers that provide unique insight into the history of water on Mars.

New Horizons Spaceship

Artistic conception of the New Horizons spaceship. Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwestern Research Institute

New Horizons (Principal Investigator: Dr Alan Stern, SwRI): New Horizons flew over Pluto in 2015 and the Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) Arrokoth in 2019. In its second extended mission, New Horizons will continue to explore the distant solar system up to 63 astronomical units (AU) from Earth. The New Horizons spacecraft can potentially perform multidisciplinary observations relevant to the solar system and NASA’s heliophysical and astrophysical divisions. Additional details regarding New Horizons’ science plan will be provided at a later date.

Odyssey spacecraft above the south pole of Mars

NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft passes over Mars’ south pole in this artist’s concept illustration. The spacecraft has been in orbit around Mars since October 24, 2001. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars Odyssey (Project Scientist: Dr. Jeffrey Plaut, JPL): The extended Mars Odyssey mission will perform new thermal studies of rocks and ice below the surface of Mars, monitor the radiation environment, and continue its long-running climate monitoring campaign. The Odyssey orbiter also continues to provide unique support for real-time data relay from other Mars spacecraft. Odyssey’s extended mission duration may be limited by the amount of propellant remaining on board the spacecraft.

Mars reconnaissance orbiter

This artist’s concept shows NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter above the Red Planet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) (Project Scientist: Dr. Rich Zurek, JPL): MRO has provided a wealth of data regarding processes on the surface of Mars. In its sixth extended mission, MRO will study the evolution of the surface, ice, active geology, atmosphere and climate of Mars. In addition, MRO will continue to provide important data relay service to other Mars missions. The MRO’s CRISM instrument will be completely shut down, after the loss of its cryocooler put an end to the use of one of its two spectrometers.

NASA’s Planetary Science Division currently operates 14 spacecraft across the solar system, has 12 missions in formulation and implementation, and partners with international space agencies on seven others.

Detailed reports for the 2022 Higher Examination in Planetary Science can be found at: