NASA working on possible robotic Mars ice mapping mission

NASA and a trio of international partners have signed a statement of intent to advance a possible robotic Mars ice mapping mission. The goal of the mission is to help identify abundant and accessible ice and future candidate landing sites on Mars. The agencies are working together on an agreement to establish a joint concept team to assess mission potential and partnership opportunities.

Under the statement, which was signed by NASA, the Italian Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the agencies announced their intention to develop a commission plan and define their potential roles and responsibilities. The agreement doesn't mean the mission will move forward, but if the concept did move forward, the mission could be ready to launch as early as 2026.

The international Mars Ice Mapper mission would detect the location, depth, spatial extent, and abundance of near-surface ice deposits. Finding these ice deposits would enable the science community to interpret a more detailed volatile history of the Red Planet. The orbiter would carry a radar to help identify properties of dust, regolith, and rock layers that might impact the ability to access ice.

The mission could help the agencies identify potential science objectives for the first human missions to Mars, which are expected to be designed for about 30 days of exploration on the planet's surface. Identifying and characterizing accessible water ice could lead to human-tended science missions such as ice coring to support the search for life on Mars.

Mars Ice Mapper could also give a map of water-ice resources for later human missions that will spend more time on the surface and help meet exploration and engineering constraints such as avoiding rock and terrain hazards. As the mission concept evolves, NASA says there could be opportunities for other space agencies and commercial partners to join the mission.