‘Let’s fire penetration probes at Mars’ says startup (Wired UK)

ExoLance@Indiegogo HDExploreMars.Org

Despite the fact that we have one of the most sophisticated rovers trundling around the surface of
Mars, digging and investigating its geology, one non-profit thinks
it can trump Nasa’s extraordinary scientific feat. The answer?
Penetrator probes.

These lightweight arrow-like devices could be fired into the Red
Planet’s surface, explains Explore Mars in
an Indiegogo campaign
. It would use excess kinetic energy from
the journey towards Mars to achieve this. Once it hits the surface,
it is designed to break in two. The top part remains stuck on the
surface and is a radio transmitter that can translate data back to
an orbiter. The tip of the penetrator probe continues into the
ground to embed a “life-detection experiment” a couple metres
beneath. The system is designed to detect if any microorganisms are
living on Mars.

We do know that Mars has all the elements required for life,
and that all the geophysical and geochemical evidence suggests that
Mars could have supported life — and may still,” says the
organisation, run by the former director of Nasa’s
Mars Exploration Program  Doug McCuistion
and a team of technology consultants and aeronautics experts. It
continues: “From the findings of those missions, an intriguing body
of evidence has been building indicating that if microbial life
presently exists, it exists below the surface of Mars. While
current Nasa missions are looking for evidence of past life, no
Nasa mission is planned to look for current life. We believe this
is a mistake. To find life on Mars, we actually need to look for
life on Mars.”

The idea is to disperse the “arrows” in a number of places, to
carry out these small scientific experiments across a multiple of
Mars regions.

The Indiegogo campaign, which aims to raise $250,000 (£150,000),
is designed to allow the organisation to build the “ExoLance” arrow
prototypes within 12-14 months, for testing in the Mojave Desert.
This will allow the team to practice launching the arrows, taking
into account the atmosphere on Mars and how much force will be
needed to penetrate the landscape to the right depths. Following
these proof of concept missions, the team then plans on taking the
technology to Nasa and other agencies.

“Could life exist below the surface, away from the radiation,
dryness and temperature extremes, a number of metres below the
surface, is that a more conducive environment today for life on
Mars?” says McCuistion.

The European Space Agency has certainly already considered the
possibility, having announced its ExoMars mission, which in 2018
will be launched to dig up to two-metres into Mars’ surface in
search of life. Currently, the location for where the ExoMars
will do its digging, is up for debate. ExoLance trumps it here, as
it would scatter a bunch of penetrator probes to hunt for signs of
life. 

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19 August 2014 | 1:21 pm – Source: wired.co.uk

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