TES News

November 1993, Volume 2, No. 4

Thermal Emission Spectrometer Project
Mars Observer Space Flight Facility
Department of Geology, Box 871404
Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona 85287-1404, U.S.A.

To Mars Orbit In '97? - Life after Mars Observer

Mars Observer Lost

Communication with the NASA Mars Observer spacecraft was lost on Saturday, August 21,1993. All attempts to reestablish the communication line were unsuccessful. The Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES) group at Arizona State University (ASU) held an open house on August 24th, the day Mars Observer was to go into orbit about the Red Planet. Over 100 visitors came from all over Arizona to see if NASA would hear from the spacecraft on this day. Unfortunately, the results were disappointing.

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Mars Observer Project Office has instructed the mission's Principal Investigators to continue operating under the existing Mars Observer infrastructure with the hope of launching some or all of the Mars Observer science payloads on future missions. ASU's Dr. Philip Christensen, the TES Principal Investigator, says that although some downsizing of the TES operations team will occur, the TES research group will remain largely intact in order to help prepare for a new mission to Mars. Mars Observer was the first complete loss of a U.S. interplanetary spacecraft. According to Christensen, "There are no rules for the situation NASA has found itself in."

NASA Investigates

The NASA Administrator, Daniel Goldin, has appointed two separate committees, one to investigate possible explanations for the loss of contact with Mars Observer and another to report on the most likely opportunities for rebuilding the Mars Observer science instruments and sending them on to Mars. The results of both investigations are to be forwarded to Goldin by the end of November 1993. The panel studying options for new missions to Mars has been instructed to show how these missions will fit in with NASA's other plans to send small landers to Mars in the later half of the decade. The new Mars missions will likely consist of spacecraft that are smaller than Mars Observer, and may require spreading the original contingent of science instruments over two or more different spacecraft.

One important constraint on the design of new Mars missions is the fact that Mars and the Earth only come into proper alignment for launch approximately every 26 months. Any new mission will have to be planned in such a way that it coincides with one of these launch windows." The next launch window is in October 1994. A spacecraft takes 11 months to reach Mars, thus a 1994 launch would mean a September 1995 arrival. Congress provided $10 million for Mars missions in Fiscal Year 1994, thus there is not enough money, nor time, for the U.S. to build a new spacecraft and send it to Mars in 1994. The next launch opportunities occur in November 1996, with an October 1997 arrival at Mars, and December 1998. A 1998 launch would put a spacecraft into orbit around Mars in November 1999. Another launch window occurs in January 2001.

If you could visit Mars...

...where would you want to explore? This is the caldera at the top of Pavonis Mons, a huge shield volcano on the martian equator. The crater you see is 45 km (28 miles) across and formed by the withdrawal of magma deep beneath the volcano. Geologists are interested in volcanoes because they might provide clues to the composition of the deep crust and mantle of Mars. Photograph from the Viking 2 orbiter taken in 1976.

Or maybe you would want to land...

...on Mars and take a closer look. Above is an image from the Viking 1 lander taken in 1977.

Building A New TES

Christensen says that his team is proceeding under the assumption that another TES will be flown on the next U.S. mission to Mars. Thus, the TES team is moving ahead with the steps necessary to have a TES ready for a possible 1996 launch. While it has been rumored that a new Mars Observer spacecraft can be built from existing "spare parts," TES systems engineer, Greg Mehall, is quick to point out that the issue is more complex than simply assembling these parts. Although spares do exist for many components, there are no backups for the most epensive and complete parts of Mars Observer and its instruments. While work progresses on these so called long-lead items, thought is also being given to some minor-designs of the TES . "There are things we would change based on experience," said Christensen. When construction of a new TES begins, it will be assembled (like the first TES) at the Hughes Santa Barbara Research Center in Goleta, California.

Other Missions To Mars?

In addition to the prospects for a new Mars Observer-type mission, there are several other Mars spacecraft being planned or built. The first, Mars 94, consists of a set of orbiters, landers, and penetators (which would dig into the martian soil). Mars 94 is an international program being assembled in Russia for launch from Kazakhstan in October 1994. However, because of financial difficulties, it is possible that this mission will be delayed to a 1996 launch. Russia has also been working on a mission called Mars 96. Japan has plans for a spacecraft that will fly past Mars in 1997. Also for 1996, the U.S. is planning to send a small lander, bearing an even smaller robotic rover, called MESUR Pathfinder. MESUR stands for Mars Environmental SURvey. The Pathfinder mission is designed to test the concept of sending small landers to the planets. A whole series of MESUR landers is in the planning stages for U.S. Mars exploration in the 1998 - 2005 time frame.

Mini TES

The MESUR landers are planned to be small, perhaps only a meter wide at the base. In addition, many of the Mars orbiter concepts being considered to replace Mars Observer are also small. Thus, a challenging aspect of designing a future TES will be the interfacing of such an instrument with new spacecraft designs. An example of a smaller, less expensive spacecraft is Clementine, which will be sent to map the Moon and the asteroid Geographos in January through March 1994. Clementine was designed and built by the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (formerly known as "SDI" or "Star Wars"). The Clementine spacecraft measures approximately one cubic meter, not much larger than the TES flown on Mars Observer. If spacecraft the size of Clementine are the wave of the future, then spacecraft instruments will have to be made smaller. An exciting prospect lies in making miniature versions of the TES. Christensen and Mehall have begun discussing ideas for a new instrument which would be half the size of the original TES, would require half the power, and would still produce the same level of scientific return. The proposed instrument will be the size of a soda can. Because it would be initially designed for the MESUR landers, it has been called "Mars Surface TES," or, informally, "Ms. TES."

ASU TES Staff and Students Look Ahead

How has the Mars Observer loss affected the rest of the ASU TES group? The TES computer programming staff is continuing to develop user-friendly software which allows scientists to view existing Mars data for areas of interest on the marlian surface and to plan future observations. The software applications being developed could also be applied to the collection and evaluation of data from NASA's Earth Observing System satellites which will begin operations in 1998.

ASU geology graduate students involved with TES have had to reconsider dissertation topics. For example, where a particular thesis might have required new data from the TES instrument, several students are now concentrating more on laboratory and field studies which may have future application to Mars data. Several graduate research assistants will likely complete their dissertations somewhat earlier than anticipated. Meanwhile, the ASU Thermal Emission Spectroscopy Lab is continuing to assemble a spectral library of Earth's minerals and rocks. This activity employs several undergradute science students as well as graduate assistants.

Mars TES Education Program Continues

The Mars TES Educational Program remains alive and well. This fall, more than 600 K-12 students have visited the TES Facility at ASU. Education personnel have emphasized a context in which students can understand the loss of Mars Observer and gain a greater appreciation of why we "do science" and explore the universe against sometimes difficult odds. TES personnel are also busy assembling educational resource materials that are being made available to teachers who visit the TES Facility. Educators who have a demonstrated interest in Mars science will have an opportunity to browse and evaluate educational materials relating to Mars and the Solar System. Resources include books, magazines/journals, posters, slide sets, video tapes, maps, and Mars globes. While most materials are available for inspection only, a few items may be borrowed by educators for use in their classroom. The TES team will hold its third K-12 Educators' Workshop in February, 1994. For more information, call the ASU TES Project Office, (602) 965-1790.

Recent Articles

Begley, S., "Lost in Space," Newsweek, September 6, 1993.

Benningfield, D., "The Odd Little Moons of Mars," Astronomy, December 1993.

Boyer, W. H., "Alls Quiet on the Martian Front," Final Frontier, November-December 1993.

Cook, W. J., "The Invasion of Mars," U.S. News & World Report , August 23, 1993.

Lemonick, M. D., "Lost in Space," Time, September 6, 1993.

McKay, C. P., "Did Mars once have Martians?," Astronomy, September 1993.

A new TES NEWS is available every 3 to 6 months.
This newsletter may be copied for educational 
purposes only.  A hardcopy version of TES NEWS
can be obtained by visiting the Mars TES Facility
on the campus of Arizona State University.  
Please share or recycle all hardcopies of this 

Text by:  

Steve Schmidt & 

Kenneth S. Edgett

Typeset by:  
Kathy Patoni & Kenneth S. Edgett
 Original Text: 
November 12, 1993 This On-line version: January 20, 1994