Category: phoenix

Phoenix (spacecraft)

Phoenix was a robotic spacecraft on a space exploration mission on Mars under the Mars Scout Program. The Phoenix landerdescended on Mars on May 25, 2008. Mission scientists used instruments aboard the lander to search for environments suitable for microbial life on Mars, and to research the history of water there. The total mission cost was about US $386 million, which includes cost of the launch.

Phoenix during testing in September 2006.

Phoenix was NASA’s sixth successful landing out of seven attempts and was the first successful landing in a Martian polar region.

Phoenix Landing Site Indicated on Global View.  

The lander completed its mission in August 2008, and made a last brief communication with Earth on November 2 as available solar power dropped with the Martian winter. 

A thin layer of water frost is visible on the ground around NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander in this image taken by the Surface Stereo Imager at 6 a.m. on Sol 79 (August 14, 2008), the 79th Martian day after landing. The frost began to disappear shortly after 6 a.m. as the sun rose on the Phoenix landing site.

The mission was declared concluded on November 10, 2008, after engineers were unable to re-contact the craft. After unsuccessful attempts to contact the lander by the Mars Odyssey orbiter up to and past the Martian summer solstice on May 12, 2010, JPL declared the lander to be dead. The program was considered a success because it completed all planned science experiments and observations

This artist’s rendering shows a possible fate for the Phoenix Mars Lander.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory made adjustments to the orbits of its two active satellites around Mars, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey, and the European Space Agency similarly adjusted the orbit of its Mars Express spacecraft to be in the right place on May 25, 2008 to observe Phoenix as it entered the atmosphere and then landed on the surface.

Descent of Phoenix with a crater in the background taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

This information helps designers to improve future landers. The projected landing area was an ellipse 100 km by 20 km covering terrain which has been informally named “Green Valley" and contains the largest concentration of water ice outside the poles.

Above the Martian arctic circle, the sun does not set during the peak of the Martian summer. But, this period of maximum solar energy is past. On Sol 86, or the 86th Martian day after Phoenix landed on the Red planet, the sun fully set behind a slight rise to the north for about half an hour.

Phoenix landed in the Green Valley of Vastitas Borealis on May 25, 2008, in the late Martian northern hemisphere spring, where the Sun shone on its solar panels the whole Martian day.

The landing was made on a flat surface, with the lander reporting only 0.3 degrees of tilt. Just before landing, the craft used its thrusters to orient its solar panels along an east-west axis to maximize power generation. 

This black-and-white self-portrait shows Phoenix’s leg nestled in the Martian soil.

The lander waited 15 minutes before opening its solar panels, to allow dust to settle. The first images from the lander became available around 7:00 p.m. PDT (2008-05-26 02:00 UTC). The images show a surface strewn with pebbles and incised with small troughs into polygons about 5 m across and 10 cm high, with the expected absence of large rocks and hills.

Color versions of the photos showing ice sublimation, with the lower left corner of the trench enlarged in the insets in the upper right of the images.

On July 31, 2008 (sol 65), NASA announced that Phoenix confirmed the presence of water ice on Mars, as predicted in 2002 by the Mars Odyssey orbiter. During the initial heating cycle of a new sample, TEGA’s mass spectrometer detected water vapor when the sample temperature reached 0 °C. Liquid water cannot exist on the surface of Mars with its present low atmospheric pressure, except at the lowest elevations for short periods.