Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun and is the second smallest planet in the solar system. Mars due to its similarities to earth and due to some of the favorable condition for life to survive is considered as next earth for life.
Various ongoing researches are conducted to examine the geological nature of mars and also to find the possibilities of life in Mars. Mars project like Mars Odyssey from NASA and Mangalyaan from ISRO have discovered the presence of traces of water on the Mars planet.
Listed below are the eight active spacecraft mission to mars which are still in function in Mars orbit, functioning for various purpose.
2001 Mars Odyssey:
The 2001 Mars Odyssey is the longest-serving spacecraft machinery to work at Mars. The Odyssey spacecraft was launched on April 07, 2001 from Cape Canaveral, United States using Boeing’s Delta II 7925 spacecraft launcher that uses nine strap-on solid rocket motors.
The main objectives of Odyssey mission to mars are to contribute to the five science goals and meet its specific goal of determining Mars’ habitability. Mars Odyssey has the following science objectives.
- Globally map the elemental composition of the surface.
- Determine the abundance of hydrogen in the shallow subsurface.
- Acquire high spatial and spectral resolution images of the surface mineralogy.
- Provide information on the morphology of the Mar’s surface.
- Characterize the Mar’s near-space radiation environment as related to radiation-induced risk to human explorers.
Find more on the complete detail of 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft mission.
Mars Express Orbiter Spacecraft:
Mars Express is a space exploration mission to mars being conducted by the European Space Agency (ESA). The Mars Express mission is exploring the planet Mars, and is the first planetary mission to mars attempted by the agency.
Mars Express carried seven instruments and deployed a lander, Beagle 2. The lander was lost during its attempt to reach the planet’s surface but the orbiter continues its highly successful on-going global investigation of Mars and its two moons, Phobos and Deimos. Arriving at Mars in 2003, it is the second longest surviving, continually active spacecraft in orbit around a planet other than Earth, behind only NASA’s still active 2001 Mars Odyssey.
Main objective is to study the Mar’s atmosphere and climate, the planet’s structure, its mineralogy and its geology, and to search for traces of water.
Mars Exploration Rover – Opportunity:
Opportunity, also known as MER-B (Mars Exploration Rover – B) or MER-1 is the only active robotic rover in Mars since 2004. Launched on July 7, 2003 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover program, it landed in Meridiani Planum on January 25, 2004, three weeks after its twin Spirit (MER-A) touched down on the other side of the planet.
Opportunity was the second of the two rovers launched in 2003 to land on Mars and begin traversing the Red Planet in search of signs of past life. The rover is still actively exploring the Martian terrain, having far outlasted her planned 90-day mission.
Since landing on Mars in 2004, Opportunity has made a number of discoveries about the Red Planet including dramatic evidence that long ago at least one area of Mars stayed wet for an extended period and that conditions could have been suitable for sustaining microbial life.
It carried the below Scientific Instruments:
- Panoramic camera (Pancam)
- Microscopic Imager (MI)
- Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-TES)
- Mossbauer Spectrometer (MB)
- Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS)
- Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT)
- Magnet arrays
- Hazard Avoidance Cameras (Hazcams)
- Navigation Cameras (Navcams)
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter:
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was launched using the launch vehicle Atlas V from Cape Canaveral August 12, in 2005, on a search for evidence that water persisted on the surface of Mars for a long period of time.
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has studied the Red Planet’s atmosphere and terrain from orbit since 2006 and also serves as a key data relay station for other mission to mars, including the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity.
The orbiter carries six science instruments for examining the planet in various parts of the electromagnetic spectrum from ultraviolet to radio waves. Two other investigations will use the spacecraft itself as a tool.
Mangalyaan from ISRO (MARS ORBITER MISSION):
MARS ORBITER MISSION (MOM) is India’s first venture into the interplanetary space, which was successfully launched on Nov 05, 2013 using PSLV – C25 launch vehicle from SDSC SHAR Centre, Sriharikota, India.
MOM’s mission is to explore and observe Mars surface features, morphology, mineralogy and the Mars atmosphere. Further, a specific search for methane in the mars atmosphere will provide information about the possibility or the past existence of life on the planet.
It has been configured to carry out observation of physical features of mars and carry out limited study of Martian atmosphere with following five instruments:
- Mars Colour Camera (MCC).
- Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (TIS).
- Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM).
- Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser (MENCA).
- Lyman Alpha Photometer (LAP).
Curiosity is a car-sized robotic rover exploring Gale Crater on Mars as part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission. Curiosity was launched on 14 March 2016 from Baikonur 200/39 using the launch vehicle Proton-M/Briz-M. Curiosity was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms called microbes.
The Curiosity analyzes samples scooped from the soil and drilled from rocks. The record of the planet’s climate and geology is essentially hidden in the rocks and soil which tells their formation, structure, and chemical composition. The rover’s onboard laboratory studies rocks, soils, and the local geologic setting in order to detect chemical building blocks of life (e.g., forms of carbon) on Mars and assesses what the Mars environment was like in the past.
ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter:
The 2016 ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) is the first in a series of mission to mars undertaken jointly by the two space agencies, European Space Agency (ESA) and Roscosmos (a State Corporation for Space Activities a governmental body responsible for the space science program of Russia and general aerospace research).
The Trace Gas Orbiter carries the Entry, Descent and landing demonstrator Module (EDM), known as Schiaparelli, on the journey from Earth towards Mars. It will facilitate the real-time transmission to Earth of the most important data measured by Schiaparelli.
TGO was launched on 14 March 2016 from Baikonur 200/39 using Proton-M/Briz-M launch vehicle. The mission will end on 2022.
A key goal of this mission is to gain a better understanding of methane and other atmospheric gasses that are present in small concentrations (less than 1% of the atmosphere) but nevertheless could be evidence for possible biological or geological activity. Investigations with observatories in space and on Earth have demonstrated the presence of small amounts of methane in the Martian atmosphere that has been shown to vary with location and time. Since methane is short-lived on geological time scales, its presence implies the existence of an active, current source of methane.
MAVEN Orbiter Spacecraft:
Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) is a space probe developed by NASA designed to study the Mars atmosphere while orbiting Mars. Mission goals include determining how the planet’s atmosphere and water, presumed to have once been substantial, were lost over time. Successfully launched through an Atlas V launch vehicle on November 18, 2013 in Cape Canaveral SLC-41 of USA.
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