New opportunity for space industry - NASA announced on April 21, 2016 that they would like to spend some money on new satellite. Martian satellite of course!
In spite of plans of cooperation with SpaceX during their Mars mission planned for 2018, NASA still has developing own Mars program with Mars 2020 mission which will consist of lander and Mars rover. In spite of progress in Mars 2020, NASA would like to launch in 2020 Martian satellite, which will be support in further manned journey to Mars. Spacecraft will be imaging satellite operating in high resolution with necessary communication equipment for lossless and fast downlink. It could be also considered as communication support of Mars rover which should land on Red Planet on 2020. Also it is planned to utilize satellite as platform for various science experiments and testing new technologies. Responsible for planning mission and formulating technical demands for satellite is Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which also will be responsible for Mars 2020 mission. To sum up, satellite will be testing platform for new technologies, will be equipped in highly efficient communication instruments and will be developed under public-private partnership. As far as testing new technologies it will be mainly focused on technologies useful during future Mars exploration. First place among of planned subjects of experiments is new highly efficient solar electric propulsion which is recently developed by NASA under Advanced Electric Propulsion System (AEPS) program. Next crucial technology in further Mars exploration is new fast optical communication system. If conventional radio communication is useful in robotic missions, during manned mission even delay of 11 minutes while Mars is closest to Earth could have crucial meaning. Sense of the new satellite mission was well described by John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate:
“Our success in exploring Mars, to unravel the mysteries of the Red Planet, depends on having high bandwidth communication with Earth and overhead imaging,.. Currently, we depend on our orbiting science missions to perform dual service in making measurements and acting as communication relays, but we can’t depend on them to last forever. This new orbiter will use cutting-edge technology to revitalize our ability to continue to explore Mars and support transformative science, including a potential sample return mission in the future.”
For this mission NASA also would like to acquire international partners to extend as much as possible usage of opportunities given by satellite. This mission is third planned for next four years and focused on Mars. Insight, cooperation with DLR and CNES is planned for 2018 and landing of next Mars rover is scheduled for 2020. NASA still is trying to keep its conception of leaving LEO for commercial companies and focus on deep space exploration, but after unveiling recently by Spacenews.com, fact that budget for future Mars landing technology demonstrator was reduced for 85%, satellite mission with potential first contracts for concept studies for $400000 (contest for satellite concept will be announced after further four months) is much more less expectable than developing Mars lander. If we combine these facts with SpaceX plan for Mars mission in 2018 with landing, gathering probes and return to Earth we will see that NASA seems to leave Mars for commercial companies (it seems that only remaining question is how deep should be space to not be left by NASA to SpaceX...).