Mars Armada 2016?

I saw the headline by Rachel Courtland in IEE Spectrum blogs, “Armada of Martian Probes Will Study the Planet, Inside and Out”, and I thought, ‘ How cool is that!’

Clearly, even without the popular (and excellent) book and (haven’t seen it) movie, Mars exploration will be something to watch this year.

So what constitutes an “armada” these days? First of all, despite the evocative word, “armada”, I’m relieved to confirm that this is a purely peaceful, civilian fleet. We are not invading Mars quite yet, despite more than a century of fictional saber rattling here on Earth.

The subheadline indicates that this “armada” is made up of “Five intrepid spacecraft”. On the small side for a fleet, but still the largest group anywhere beyond near Earth. In fact, this would be just two launches, one by NASA carrying three spacecraft including InSight, and one by ESA and Ruscosmos, carrying two spacecraft, including the first ExoMars. Still, it’s a mass launch, which are pretty rare.

Insight lander (launch delayed) llustration: James Provost

Unfortunately, just as the article was published NASA announced that the InSight launch will be delayed, probably until 2018. The ESA+Russian launch is still scheduled for March 2016, with a second launch to come in 2018.

Elements of the ExoMars programme 2016-2018 Credit: ESA

This fleet (two is just barely a “fleet”) will join the fleet of spacecraft already on or orbiting Mars. The Planetary Society list seven spacecraft or surface rovers currently operating out at Mars, which is a respectable grouping.

There is lots of talk these days about humans travelling to Mars Real Soon Now. My own view is that sending humans is senseless and a huge waste of resources. Not only is such a mission difficult and suicidally dangerous, there isn’t much reason to go there except egotistical, romantic obsession. Just say no.

But yes, lets send more robot spacecraft to all the nearby planets and moons.



Space Saturday

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