UA's Proposed Phoenix Mission to Mars May Fly in 2007
Computer illustration of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory's proposed Phoenix Mars Scout lander.
In June 2008, a lander mission called Phoenix could deliver tools to
search for habitable zones and the history of water on Mars.
NASA today announced that the University of Arizona Lunar and
Planetary Laboratory's Phoenix mission has been selected as one of
four candidates to fly NASA's first Mars Scout Mission, cost-capped at
$325 million, planned for launch in 2007.
Peter H. Smith of the UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory heads the
NASA is to select the winning Mars Scout proposal in late summer 2003.
If the University of Arizona wins, the $284 million project will be the
largest ever awarded in the university's history.
When NASA Mars Project Scientist Jim Garvin called Smith at 8:30 this
morning (Tucson time), Smith, who currently is in San Francisco for the
American Geophysical Union meeting, said, "I started dancing
around the room. I felt like flying over the San Francisco Bay - without
"This will be a mission reflight of Mars Polar Lander, but to the
northern plains of Mars, and first flight for 2001 Mars Surveyor Lander
instruments that were built but never flown," Smith said.
"We will be able to make a very accurate analysis of what
promises to be some of Mars' more habitable terrain, a place where
organics may have a stable environment," he said.
Smith, who is a science team member for NASA's next mission to
Mars, the Mars Exploration Rover (MER), scheduled for launch in
June 2003, was principal investigator for the Imager from Mars
Pathfinder, the last successful lander mission to Mars in 1997.
He and UA planetary scientist William V. Boynton, who is a
co-investigator on the proposed Phoenix mission, both had science
instruments on the ill-fated Mars Polar Lander of 1999. The lander was
equipped with Smith's cameras and robotic arm, and Boynton's thermal
and evolved gas analyzer to measure the composition of Martian soil.
However, communications were lost as the lander began its entry into
the Martian atmosphere on Dec. 3, 1999.
Boynton heads Mars Odyssey’s Gamma Ray Spectrometer
experiment, and will be talking at AGU this weekend on new evidence
of ice at Mars’ north pole.
When he learned that the Phoenix mission was in the running as
the first in the new line of Mars Scout Missions, he said, "Fabulous.
I can't wait to get to Mars and try (the lander experiments) again."
"We propose to land at the high northern latitudes to follow
up the exciting discovery of near surface ice by the Mars Odyssey
team," the Phoenix team said in its proposal. "This zone is
one of the few places on Mars that presents the possibility of the
periodic presence of liquid water as orbital dynamics change the
The team will use a robotic arm to excavate a trench and retrieve
samples for geological and chemical analysis. "Instruments
sensitive to minute quantities of organic molecules will enable us to
assess the habitability of the icy layer for microbial life, past and
present," their proposal said. "Climate studies will
provide information on the present-day environment, including the
local water vapor flux in and out of the surface layer. Past climates
can be inferred from clues in the trench walls."
The Phoenix mission maximizes science value while minimizing cost
and risk by flying improved 2001 Mars Surveyor Program Lander
instruments, which include two instruments delivered for that previous
launch and two "build-to-print" Mars Polar Lander
instruments (Smith’s stereo imaging camera and robotic arm,
and Boynton’s thermal and evolved gas analyzer).
The Phoenix mission will fly on the Mars’01 lander, "a
highly reliable means to soft-land on Mars by virtue of the extensive
review and the resultant planned modifications that followed
cancellation of its intended mission," the researchers said.
"Inherent in the lander design is the capability for guided entry
and hazard avoidance that will both reduce Phoenix risk and benefit
future Mars exploration," they said.
Collaborators and co-investigators include:
- Raymond Arvidson, Washington University
- Diana Blaney, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- William Boynton, University of Arizona
- Allan Carswell, Optech Inc., Canada
- David Catling, University of Washington
- Benton Clark, Lockheed Martin Astronautics
- Eric de Jong, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- William Feldman (collaborator), Los Alamos National Laboratory
- Michael Hecht, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- John Hoffman, University of Texas at Dallas
- Horst Keller, Max-Planck-Institut fur Aeronomie, Germany
- Samuel Kounaves, Tufts University
- David Lawrence, Los Alamos National Laboratory
- Mark Lemmon, Texas A & M University
- Michael Malin, Malin Space Science Systems
- Wojciech Markiewicz, Max-Planck-Institut fur Aeronomie, Germany
- John Marshall, SETI Institute
- Christopher McKay, NASA Ames Research Center
- Douglas Ming, NASA Johnson Space Center
- Richard Morris, Johnson Space Center
- Nilton Renno, University of Michigan
- Urs Staufer, University of Neuchatel, Switzerland
- Carol Stoker, Ames Research Center
- Leslie Temppari, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- Aaron Zent, Ames Research Center