SpaceX thinks it has found a suitable landing site for the company’s first mission to Mars in 2020, according to Universe Today.
The private space company announced it has been working with scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to find the best spot to land an unmanned capsule on The Red Planet. Scientists narrowed down the search to four regions in Mars’ northern hemisphere: Deuteronilus Mensae, Phlegra Montes, Utopia Planitia, and Arcadia Planitia.
These were the best locations, as they’re close enough to ice from which water for astronauts can be extracted, while also having abundant solar power and proximity to a scientifically interesting spot. Scientists narrowed down these locations using the HiRISE high-definition camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which determined that only Arcadia Planitia was smooth enough for a landing.
“The team at JPL has been finding that, while the areas look very flat and smooth at CTX resolution, with HiRISE images, they’re quite rocky,” Paul Wooster, a SpaceX employee involved in picking the landing site, told SpaceNews. “That’s been unfortunate in terms of the opportunities for those sites.”
Wooster estimates that SpaceX’s Red Dragon capsule could carry about one ton of useful payload to the Arcadia Planita landing site, enough to send an unmanned rover.
NASA has been sending a steady stream of missions to Mars, but the agency has been forced to scale back to only one more planned mission, the Mars 2020 Rover, as a result of budget cuts which occurred during the Obama administration. Mars 2020 is projected to cost around $2 billion. Obama’s NASA budget shifted money from exploration and robotics programs to its environmental sciences and “outreach” programs.
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