A new space explorer is waiting in the wings and ready to take center stage: the Mars lander called Phoenix. Phoenix's assignment is to dig through the Martian soil and ice in the arctic region and use its onboard scientific instruments to analyze the samples it retrieves.
Mars is a cold desert planet with no liquid water on its surface. But in the Martian arctic, water ice lurks just below ground level. Discoveries made by the Mars Odyssey Orbiter in 2002 show large amounts of subsurface water ice in the northern arctic plain. The Phoenix lander targets this circumpolar region using a robotic arm to dig through the protective top soil layer to the water ice below and ultimately, to bring both soil and water ice to the lander platform for sophisticated scientific analysis.
The complement of the Phoenix spacecraft and its scientific instruments are ideally suited to uncover clues to the geologic history and biological potential of the Martian arctic. Phoenix will be the first mission to return data from either polar region providing an important contribution to the overall Mars science strategy "Follow the Water" and will be instrumental in achieving the four science goals of NASA's long-term Mars Exploration Program.
- Determine whether Life ever arose on Mars
- Characterize the Climate of Mars
- Characterize the Geology of Mars
- Prepare for Human Exploration The Phoenix Mission has two bold objectives to support these goals, which are to (1) study the history of water in the Martian arctic and (2) search for evidence of a habitable zone and assess the biological potential of the ice-soil boundary.
Aboard the deck of the Phoenix spacecraft are a suite of science instruments representing some of the most sophisticated and advanced technology ever sent to Mars. The Phoenix Mission inherits a highly capable spacecraft partially built for the Mars Surveyor Program 2001 and important lessons learned from the Mars Polar Lander.
The spacecraft has several subsystems that are being updated, if necessary, with parts and software that will increase reliability. These subsystems include
- command and data handling, controlling the spacecraft's computer processing
- electrical power, consisting of solar panels, batteries, and associated converting circuits
- telecommunications, ensuring flow of data to and from Earth
- guidance, navigation, and control, assuring the spacecraft arrives safely at Mars
- propulsion, controlling trajectory correction maneuvers during cruise and thrusters during landing
- structure, providing the spacecraft framework and integrity
- mechanisms, enabling the movement of several spacecraft components
- thermal-control, using heat transfer to ensure proper temperature ranges on all parts of the spacecraft.
Launch Vehicle: Delta II
Launch Location: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Launch Pad: Space Launch Complex 17-A
Launch Date: Aug. 3, 2007
Launch Time: 5:35:18 a.m. EDT
The Delta II is designed to boost medium-sized satellites and robotic explorers into space. NASA selected a model 7925 for this mission, which is a three-stage rocket equipped with nine strap-on solid rocket boosters and a 10-foot payload fairing that will protect the spacecraft during launch.