Mars Upper Atmosphere Orbiter
Mission to Study Atmospheric Escape,
Inclusive Dates: 12/02/02 - 03/02/04
Background - Where did the water on Mars go? This question has great significance to the possibility for life on Mars at some point in its history. Water and other volatiles like CO2 were at one point much more prevalent in Mars' atmosphere, which was likely greenhouse-warmed to temperatures that allowed liquid water to flow on its surface. How much water was lost by escape to space versus lost by condensation and surface chemistry? A dedicated Mars upper atmosphere orbiter mission is required to address this question.
Approach - The team defined the science objectives, measurement needs, specifications for a few key payload instruments, and orbit options for a Mars Upper Atmosphere Orbiter (MUAO) mission through this internal research project. Instruments considered include an ion neutral mass spectrometer, a Rosetta/IES type plasma analyzer, and an ALICE type far-ultraviolet spectrometer. The approach involved teaming with several colleagues at the University of Michigan, who would contribute payload instruments and science investigations, in addition to those conducted by SwRI.
Accomplishments - The team performed initial science definition, proof-of-concept design, and trade studies for a MUAO mission the team dubbed "The Great Escape." A Mars Scout size mission was determined adequate in resources for the planned atmosphere escape investigations. A Discovery mission to study joint Venus-Mars comparative aeronomy was determined not feasible after discussions with a few spacecraft vendors. A Mars aeronomy workshop was held at SwRI, which greatly raised NASA and the science community's interest in a dedicated Mars aeronomy mission such as SwRI is now able to propose.