Space agencies around the world are plotting expensive and complicated missions to Mars in the coming years. But there is also a growing number of scientists developing low-cost and novel ways to explore the Red Planet, such as inexpensive landers, orbits, and helicopters.

Planetary scientist Bethany Ehlmann told Space.com that low-priced spacecraft could help future missions to visit amazing and exotic sites that are only seen from orbit. By lowering the price of spacecraft missions, it would energize more students to rake up careers in science and engineering.

 Cheap Mars: Researchers Are Developing Low-Cost, Novel Ways to Gather More Data on the Red Planet
(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)
True color image of Mars taken by the OSIRIS instrument on the ESA Rosetta spacecraft during its February 2007 flyby of the planet. The image was generated using the OSIRIS orange (red), green, and blue filters.

Brief History of Martian Missions

Decades of Mars exploration have revealed a lot about the Red Planet. However, many of the important questions remain a mystery and humans have only sent robots so far to study the Red Planet.

According to a previous report by Space.com, the first successful flyby reached Mars on July 14, 1965, as NASA's Mariner 4 successfully launched from Earth on November 28, 1964, after several attempts from both NASA and the Soviet Union. The first flyby was able to send 21 photos of the Red Planet.

Since then, space agencies like the European Space Agency, the former Soviet Union space program, the Indian Space Research Organization, and those from Russia, Japan, and China have attempted to send Martia missions. After them, there are no other missions this year that have arrived on Mars.

But space agencies are planning to send more missions within the decade to get samples from the Martian surface and send a sample-return mission from its moon Phobos.

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Developing Cheaper Spacecrafts for Future Mars Missions

NASA has been carefully spending taxpayer dollars on space missions to the point of finding a cheaper way to conduct explorations. One of these attempts is their Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx) program that costs a fraction of a Discovery mission, which costs about $500 million.

Space.com reported that the SIMPLEx program will send SmallSATs in deep space to study the formation and evolutionary impacts of the small rubble pile of asteroids. Taking this approach will allow scientists to explore and monitor the Martian atmosphere with unprecedented coverage and fidelity that offers protection for future human explorers.

Another low-cost technology scientists are developing is the Small High Impact Energy Landing Device (SHIELD) concept being studied by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. SHIELD is both a lander and a shock absorber in one with a goal to reduce Mars lander costs by allowing a broad suite of potential missions. For instance, SHIELD could allow NASA to place dozens of individual robots and dot places on Mars.

 There is also a future Mars investigation idea that scientists are looking into as NASA's Ingenuity helicopter has showcased its aerial capabilities. Each flight has taught scientists more concepts for future Mars missions. One of these is an advanced Mars helicopter called hexacopter that can haul larger payloads and travel at greater distances than Ingenuity.


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