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NASA Extends Exploration for 4 JPL Planetary Science Missions

Among the missions are InSight, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey, and Curiosity, all of which have been critical to expanding our understanding of the Red Planet.

Published on Tuesday, April 26, 2022 | 8:09 pm
 
An illustration shows our solar system (not to scale). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Following a thorough evaluation, NASA has extended the planetary science missions of eight of its spacecraft due to their scientific productivity and potential to deepen our knowledge and understanding of the solar system and beyond — four of the chosen are headed by principal investigators at JPL in Pasadena.

The missions – Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MAVEN, Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity rover), InSight lander, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, OSIRIS-REx, and New Horizons – have been selected for continuation, assuming their spacecraft remain healthy. Most of the missions will be extended for three years; however, OSIRIS-REx will be continued for nine years in order to reach a new destination, and InSight will be continued until the end of 2022, unless the spacecraft’s electrical power allows for longer operations.

Each extended mission proposal was reviewed by a panel of independent experts drawn from academia, industry, and NASA. In total, more than 50 reviewers evaluated the scientific return of the respective proposals. Two independent review chairs oversaw the process and, based on the panel evaluations, validated that these eight science missions hold substantial potential to continue bringing new discoveries and addressing compelling new science questions.

Beyond providing important programmatic benefit to NASA, several of these missions promise multidivisional science benefits across NASA’s entire Science Mission Directorate (SMD), including their use as data relays for Mars surface landers and rovers, as well as to support other NASA initiatives such as Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS).

“Extended missions provide us with the opportunity to leverage NASA’s large investments in exploration, allowing continued science operations at a cost far lower than developing a new mission,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Maximizing taxpayer dollars in this way allows missions to obtain valuable new science data, and in some cases, allows NASA to explore new targets with totally new science goals.”

The four with JPL Principal Invesgators which have been selected are:

InSight (Principal Investigator: Dr. Bruce Banerdt, JPL): Since landing on Mars in 2018, the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission has operated the only active seismic station beyond Earth. Its seismic monitoring of “marsquakes” has provided constraints on Mars’ interior, formation, and current activity. The extended mission will continue InSight’s seismic and weather monitoring if the spacecraft remains healthy. However, due to dust accumulation on its solar panels, InSight’s electrical power production is low, and the mission is unlikely to continue operations for the duration of its current extended mission unless its solar panels are cleared by a passing “dust devil” in Mars’ atmosphere.

Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) (Project Scientist: Dr. Ashwin Vasavada, JPL): The Mars Science Laboratory and its Curiosity rover have driven more than 16 miles (27 km) on the surface of Mars, exploring the history of habitability in Gale Crater. In its fourth extended mission, MSL will climb to higher elevations, exploring the critical sulfate-bearing layers that give unique insights into the history of water on Mars.

Mars Odyssey (Project Scientist: Dr. Jeffrey Plaut, JPL): Mars Odyssey’s extended mission will perform new thermal studies of rocks and ice below Mars’ surface, monitor the radiation environment, and continue its long-running climate monitoring campaign. The Odyssey orbiter also continues to provide unique support for real-time data relay from other Mars spacecraft. The length of Odyssey’s extended mission may be limited by the amount of propellant remaining aboard the spacecraft.

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) (Project Scientist: Dr. Rich Zurek, JPL): MRO has provided a wealth of data regarding the processes on Mars’ surface. In its sixth extended mission, MRO will study the evolution of Mars’ surface, ices, active geology, and atmosphere and climate. In addition, MRO will continue to provide important data relay service to other Mars missions. MRO’s CRISM instrument will be shut down entirely, after the loss of its cryocooler has ended the use of one of its two spectrometers.

NASA’s Planetary Science Division currently operates 14 spacecraft across the solar system, has 12 missions in formulation and implementation, and partners with international space agencies on seven others.

The detailed reports from the 2022 Planetary Science Senior Review may be found at:

https://science.nasa.gov/solar-system/documents/senior-review

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