Science & Technology

NASA checks SpaceX’s potential Starship landing sites on Mars, with water in mind

NASA helps SpaceX get a repair on potential landing sites on Mars for its Starship super-spaceship, with an emphasis on Arcadia Planitia and Amazonis Planitia, areas the place deposits of water ice could also be discovered.

One other focus of NASA’s reconnaissance marketing campaign in Phlegra Montes, a mountainous space simply west of Arcadia Planitia in Mars’ northern hemisphere.

Footage of the candidate sites have been captured from orbit by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in June and July, and included in final month’s roundup of MRO imagery.

Science author Robert Zimmerman brought the Arcadia-Amazonis sites to light last week on his Behind the Black blog, and dubbed them Site 1, Site 2, Site 3, Site 4 and Site 5. Sites 2 and three are a stereo pair of photographs. The opposite three sites on Zimmerman’s checklist have stereo pairs as properly.

Zimmerman stated that his contact at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory declined to debate the pictures as a result of a non-disclosure settlement, and that SpaceX hasn’t responded to his request for remark. (Remark is scarce this weekend as a result of Labor Day, however we’ll add something we hear from JPL or SpaceX to this report.)

Arcadia Planitia has been on SpaceX’s checklist of potential Mars landing areas for at least two years. SpaceX’s principal Mars improvement engineer, Paul Wooster, advised NASA’s Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group what the corporate was in search of throughout a digital assembly carried out a yr and a half in the past. Right here’s an excerpt from NASA’s summary of the discussion:

“SpaceX’s present landing website candidates for Mars have been proven, having been chosen to offer entry to near-surface ice, few landing website hazards (corresponding to giant rocks), and sufficient house for doubtlessly rising a sizeable outpost. The ice sites are in excessive mid-latitudes and the seek for decrease latitude candidates, that are most popular, continues. Beforehand, MEPAG had been advised that SpaceX might transport for-fee payloads to the Mars floor.”

Wooster advised the MEPAG assembly that there’d in all probability be capability for secondary payloads on what’s now referred to as the Starship spacecraft, however that the small print must wait till the launcher capabilities have been “firmly established.”

Zimmerman famous that there’s sturdy proof for the presence of buried glaciers, referred to as lobate particles aprons, in the area that was imaged by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. In a  presentation given at a NASA workshop in 2015, researchers referred to as Arcadia Planitia “one of many few areas the place considerable shallow ice is current at comparatively low latitude.”

The focused areas are comparatively flat, and the local weather is comparatively delicate. And for what it’s price, if that’s the place SpaceX is planning to construct a settlement, there’s a potential attraction for scientists and vacationers not distant: Olympus Mons, the largest volcano in the solar system.

Like Arcadia, Phlegra Montes is assumed to hold significant stores of water ice in buried glaciers, however the terrain is extra rugged.

It’s too early to say whether or not SpaceX’s first Mars-bound Starship will head for the Arcadia-Amazonis area or for Phlegra Montes. However the truth that NASA is taking a more in-depth look on SpaceX’s behalf suggests these locations are positively in the operating.

When will that first Mars mission take off? SpaceX put a prototype for its Starship spacecraft, referred to as Starhopper, to its highest-flying test just last week, and if SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has his method, Starships might start flying to the Purple Planet by the mid-2020s — at first with cargo, after which with folks.

Musk is promising to say more about Starship throughout an replace on Sept. 28, which is the eleventh anniversary of SpaceX’s first fully successful orbital launch. So keep tuned.

Take a look at this map of the Arcadia-Amazonis sites, plus uncooked photographs from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Click on on the ‘broaden’ arrows for a bigger view:

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