Finding Life on Mars Efforts
The low Delta-Velocity launch window for Mars is open from now to mid-August and there are three different exploration systems trying to get launched.
The first launch attempt was the United Arab Emirates’ Mars orbiter on Wednesday, postponed due to bad weather at the launch site in southern Japan. The orbiter named Amal, or Hope, is the Arab world’s first interplanetary mission. The launch, initially scheduled for Wednesday from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan, has been reset for 6:58 a.m. Monday (2158 GMT Sunday July 19, 2020), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the provider of the H-IIA rocket.
The second launch attempt will be the Tianwen-1, a planned mission by China to send a spacecraft, which consists of an orbiter, a lander and a rover, to Mars. The mission is planned to be launched on 23 July 2020 by a Long March 5 heavy lift rocket. Its stated objectives are to search for evidence of both current and past life, and to assess the planet's environment.
The third launch attempt will be Mars 2020, NASA’s next flagship mission, which should launch the Perseverance rover to Mars on July 30th at 7:50 a.m. EDT, weather permitting, and will begin its mission on the Martian surface in February 2021. Mars 2020 is seeking signs of past life in Jezero crater, the site of an ancient delta and crater lake. The Mars 2020 rover will also collect a diverse and compelling set of rock and soil samples for potential return to Earth by a future set of missions.
They are seeking only signs of past life because Mars lost its atmosphere and froze down to a depth of one-kilometer billions of years ago. Hence, to find current life would require a major drilling operation to seek deep life in liquid water below one kilometer.
Return to the Moon Efforts
Official NASA Artemis Statement: “NASA is committed to landing American astronauts, including the first woman and the next man, on the Moon by 2024. Through the agency’s Artemis lunar exploration program, we will use innovative new technologies and systems to explore more of the Moon than ever before. We will collaborate with our commercial and international partners to establish sustainable missions by 2028. And then we will use what we learn on and around the Moon to take the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars”.
As I think you can tell, NASA views Return to the Moon as an extracurricular assignment, imposed by the Trump administration, that slows down the effort to put boots on Mars. This is unfortunate because there are legitimate commercial reasons to go to the moon first, and NASA’s “been there, done that” attitude is not helping. Fortunately, NASA is still a team player and has enlisted key commercial companies willing to invest in the return to the moon effort. These companies will send a suite of science instruments and technology demonstrations to the lunar surface through the Commercial Moon Deliveries Program beginning in 2021. The goal of landing humans at the lunar South Pole will require a new upper stage system and a lunar lander. NASA has funded preliminary design studies at Blue Origin, Space X, Dynetics, and Vivace for those systems.
The current NASA effort is underfunded and short on time, but I hope some progress can be made before the 2020 election. If Trump loses this effort will surely disappear or go completely private. If Trump wins, we could see a serious effort to put a woman on the moon by 2024.
What happened to OneWeb?
Full disclosure – I was involved in analyzing the profitability of the Teledesic Satellite Internet system for Boeing back in the middle 1990s. At that time because of high launch costs it could not compete with transmission towers and fiber optics. I suspect OneWeb stumbled for the same reasons, plus they have a fierce competitor in Space-X’s Starlink system. I believe the OneWeb development team ran their latest Return on Investment (ROI) numbers and those numbers had dropped to the point where finding further investors was going to be impossible.
That is what happened to Teledesic.