Cracking The Surface of Mars

29 January 2006
Posted by Chris Smith.

Phil Christienson of Arizona State University has designed a new spacecraft in the running to be launched to Mars to search for water ice concealed below the surface. Setting it apart from the other possible mission plans is its ingenious method for searching below Mars' surface for the ice deposits. If selected the spacecraft will launch a 100kg copper sphere to smash into the surface of Mars at 15,000 km/hr. This sphere with a diameter around 60 cm will form a crater 50 m across and approximately 25 m deep. While this is happening the spacecraft in orbit around the red planet will observe the crater being formed and the debris created to search for signs of water ice and will become the first spacecraft to examine below Mars' surface. This is a similar strategy used to examine the comet Tempel 1 in the successful Deep Impact mission last year. Finding the ice deposits already thought to exist on Mars will have huge implications for future exploration. The water now locked in ice could once have been liquid making Mars habitable millennia ago and if astronauts eventually visit Mars the ice can be used to synthesize rocket fuel for the journey home. If selected we can look forward to launch in 2011.

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