First we take a look at NASAs maneuvers to be implemented by October 9th at the latest; repositioning themselves on the far side of Mars. Three orbiters? Yes, three. Two are already there and the third is set to enter orbit on or about September 21st. The Mars MAVEN.
[Just to give an overview – the Mars MAVEN has a very complete toolset for its observation of Mars atmosphere. It comes complete with a Solar Energetic Particle which measures the ions of Hydrogen and Helium emitted during solar weather (this seeks data onHOW much solar weather reaches Mars), a Solar Wind Ion Analyzer (to measure the temperature, density, and velocity of the solar wind), a SupraThermal & Thermal Ion Composition (to examine the composition of high-energy ions in the Martian upper atmosphere), Langmuir Probe and Waves (instrument that lets scientists find the boundary and density of the ionosphere, ie- allowing them to calculate atmospheric escape), a Solar Wind Electron Analyzer(measures the angular distributions and energies of electrons),a Magnetometer (to collect data about the magnetic environment as MAVEN orbits Mars), a Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer ( for data about how the upper atmosphere's composition and structure changes around the planet throughout the mission), and an Imaging UltraViolet Spectrograph (this instrument has the job of chemically mapping the upper atmosphere of the planet and measuring the rate of escape for hydrogen atoms). EVEN cooler is that MAVEN is also carrying the Electra Communications Relay that will serve as a backup communications option for both Curiosity & Opportunity already served by the Mars Odyssey as well as the Mars reconnaissance Obiter as well.]
But back to the rapid fleeing to the far side of Mars. The comet Siding Spring is arriving in October and though it will miss Mars by 82,000 miles, it is the nucleus that has NASA concerned. (A cometary nucleus is composed of rock, dust, and frozen gases.) It isn’t the comet that makes NASA nervous; it is the trail of debris. It will be shedding rocks and ice particles that will then be moving at approximately 35 miles per second, relative the Mars orbiters. At that speed, a particle, just half a millimeter across, could significantly damage the space agency’s spacecraft.
But these three orbiters will not be just moving out of the way. Each has their own specific job to do during what is a really cool opportunity! Odyssey will be examining the thermal and spectral features of the comet’s coma and tail while MAVEN will examine gases coming off the comet’s nucleus and finally the MRO will observe the Red Planet’s atmosphere for possible temperature increases and cloud development in response to the comets passing.
AND WHILE WE’RE ON MARs; MIT TO CREATE OXYGEN ON MARs!
The awesome Mars 2020 mission has an objective that we can all breathe a sigh of relief over, hopefully. With an instrument called ‘MOXIE’ from MIT, the newest rover will be able to produce oxygen, at least that is the hope. The atmosphere is 95.32% carbon dioxide and MOXIE is a specialized reverse fuel cell that will consume energy and produce oxygen. This oxygen will be for both human consumption and allow travelers to burn liquid oxygen as part of the rocket fuel for the return trip. Now we’re talking!