Reportedly, Space X founder Elon Musk has asked NASA to provide possible landing sites for its towering, two-stage rocket system called Starship for mid-2020 missions that will land people and cargo on Mars. Collaborating with a NASA scientist, the rocket company requested photos of at least nine landing sites for Starships that offer relatively flat, warm and hazard-free sites for the upcoming fleet of Martian launch vehicles.
According to tech news site Mashable, the Space X request came to light when space-history writer Robert Zimmerman first posted about the images imported from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on his blog, Behind the Black. In many of the MRO photos, Zimmerman noticed that they have been labelled with words including, ‘Candidate Landing Site for SpaceX Starship.’
These new pictures come from HiRISE, a telescope handled by the University of Arizona atop the MRO. The telescope’s camera photographs surface features at a resolution as fine as one foot per pixel and then beams tens of millions of them to Earth. In the HiRISE catalog, Zimmerman has highlighted four Starship landing sites for future missions. Business Insider went on to locate image requests for nine different SpaceX-related Mars missions.
The image below is an elevation map of Mars showing the nine candidate landing sites SpaceX is considering for its first Martian voyages of Starship. (NASA/USGS/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum) via Google Earth Pro; Business Insider)
Out of these nine possible landing sites, eight are located on the border of two major regions called Arcadia Planitia and Amazonis Planitia to the north and south respectively. These spots are likely to be replete of near-surface ice sources that could sublimate into the air, if it all, there’s a functional vacuum.
The topographic map of Amazonis Planitia above, is one of the smoothest plains on Mars. Data to create this image were taken with the Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) instrument. Color indicate elevation, with red highest, yellow intermediate, and green/blue lowest. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MOLA Science Team).
NASA’s Mars 2020 mission at Jezero Crater represents a crucial first step towards a possible Mars sample return,” said Ken Williford, Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Astrobiogeochemistry Laboratory. Jezero Crater features an ancient river delta and a lake that could have been a prime location for life on early Mars.
“Our objective is to collect a diverse set of samples from our landing site with the best potential to preserve records of the evolution of Mars – including the presence of life if it was there. We’ll use our onboard instruments to provide the critical field context that future scientists would need to understand the measurements made back on Earth.
NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, which will look for signs of past life on Mars, will use smart methods originally developed to find the oldest life on Earth, according Williford, the mission’s Deputy Project Scientist. The 2020 mission builds on the successes of prior rovers, to make coordinated measurements that could detect signs of ancient life – or biosignatures – in their original spatial context. These techniques, known as “spatially resolved biosignature analysis” derive from geochemical analysis of early life on Earth.
“Previous missions to Mars have used a relatively broad brush – analyzing average chemistry over roughly the size of a postage stamp – to “follow the water” and seek ancient habitable environments,” said Williford. “Mars 2020 takes the next natural step in its direct search for evidence of ancient microbial life, focusing measurements to the microbial scale and producing high-resolution maps over similarly postage stamp-sized analytical areas.
New scientific methods for searching for the most ancient evidence for life on Earth have led to a leap forward in capabilities for biosignature detection. Rather than using “bulk” geochemistry techniques that measure the average composition of a rock, Mars 2020 is developing new capabilities including X-ray fluorescence and Raman spectroscopy to map the elemental, mineral, and organic composition of rocks at high spatial resolution, with analytical spot sizes about the width of a human hair. Understanding the spatial distribution of chemical features preserved in ancient rocks is key to determining whether or not they were formed by life.
Elon Musk’s ultimate goal is to terraform Mars by trapping in carbon dioxide to make it habitable for future voyagers.