NASA honing preparations for its trip to Mars Ice Mapper


In February, when the administration of President Donald Trump announced its NASA budget proposal for this financial year, the documents included a delight for planetary researchers: the unveiling of a new mission called the Mars Ice Mapper. But the proposed budget papers are not full of mission specifics; as well as NASA Agency¬†has stayed silent about the new venture, so it’s been difficult to grasp the Mars Ice Mapper tale. Information remains sparse, however during a meeting that was held¬†last month, NASA officials gave a bit more insight into the roots and aims of the mission, naming Mars Ice Mapper an effort to take advantage of a particular and unforeseen opportunity with consequences for several NASA priorities.

“Mars Ice Mapper emanates from NASA agency-level objectives.  Researching Mars ice reservoirs evolved as a focusing necessity and hence a necessity, for not only scientific merit, as well as in readiness for human exploration,” stated Lori Gaze, Planetary Science Division director during a session of the Planetary Science Advisory Committee of NASA agency on November 30th.  Then, NASA got very lucky: it was announced by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) that it was involved in supplying a Mars orbiter with the synthetic aperture radar instrument. The whole technology uses a rotating antenna and complicated geometry to generate accurate charts, like chara, showing geological activities and environmental changes.

The first radar capability to orbit the Red Planet will not be such an instrument: both NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the European Mars Express spacecraft bear shallow radar instruments. Venus has historically been the subject of synthetic aperture radar equipment because of its dense atmosphere making it impossible to examine the surface from far. “NASA is currently trying to create the mechanism for facilitating international, considerable commercial collaborations for the execution of Mars Ice Mapper as a component of the agency’s strategy,” Glaze added. “We were able to get those established in an attempt to comprehend what all the mission architecture truly looks like.”

During the same discussion, Eric Ianson, Glaze’s deputy director, spoke in more depth about the program, mentioning that even in addition to CSA, the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are foreign partners in the Mars Ice Mapper discussion and that this mission could seek a launch as soon as 2026. “The timetable is crucial for the goals of the department, Ianson noted. It is a vital in situ component for exploration to locate reachable ground ice, and it is going to help to tell where the great spots to land on Mars are, ” he added.   “Whether we are preparing for the human exploration throughout the mid-2030s, we are required to begin having information as soon as the early 2020s on exactly where we’ll be scheduling these future missions.”