Mars Phoenix Lander


Mars Phoenix Lander was the first NASA Mars Scout programme mission. It was launched from Kennedy Space Center on 4 August 2007. The Phoenix lander descended on Mars on May 25, 2008.

Mars Phoenix Lander

The mission was named Phoenix in recognition that it follows two earlier missions: the 2001 Mars Surveyor lander (cancelled in 2000) and the Mars Polar Lander (lost on Mars in 1999). Phoenix means ‘rises from ashes’ and is the name for the resilient mythological bird.

Many of the scientific instruments for Phoenix were built or designed for these spacecraft. The 2001 Mars Surveyor lander had been kept in storage at a Lockheed Martin clean room at Sunnyvale, California.

The cost of the Phoenix mission was $386 million, which includes the launch. The partnership developing the Phoenix mission includes: the University of Arizona, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver (built spacecraft) and the Canadian Space Agency, which is providing weather-monitoring instruments. Peter H. Smith of the University of Arizona, Lunar and Planetary Laboratory heads the Phoenix mission.

The aim of the mission is:

1. To explore the Martian arctic soils for possible indicators of life, past or present.
2. To examine potential habitats for water ice.
3. To enhance our understanding of Martian atmospheric processes.
4. To measure volatiles, such as water and organic molecules in the northern polar region of Mars.

The Mars Phoenix Lander Mission

Phoenix was a stationary lander. It landed on the icy northern pole of Mars between 65 and 75 north latitude. The region is comparable to the permafrost regions of the Earth. The lander design had the capability for guided entry and hazard avoidance.

During the course of the 150 Martian day mission, Phoenix will deploy its robotic arm and dig trenches up to half a metre (1.6 feet) into the layers of water ice and deliver samples to the onboard laboratory for geological and chemical analysis.

Imaging technology inherited from both the Pathfinder and Mars Exploration Rover missions will be used in Phoenix’s stereo camera, located on its 2 metre (6.6 foot) mast. The camera’s two “eyes” will reveal a high-resolution perspective of the landing site’s geology and will provide range maps that will enable the team to choose ideal digging locations. Multi-spectral capability will enable the identification of local minerals.

Phoenix will also scan the Martian atmosphere up to 20 kilometres (12.4 miles) in altitude, obtaining data about the formation, duration and movement of clouds, fog and dust plumes. It will also carry temperature and pressure sensors.

Instruments on Mars Phoenix Lander include:

1. Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) – built by Malin Space Science Systems. MARDI plays a key science role during Phoenix’s descent to the Martian arctic.

2. Surface Stereoscopic Imager (SSI) – built by the University of Arizona. SSI will serve as Phoenix’s “eyes” for the mission, providing high-resolution, stereoscopic, panoramic images of the Martian arctic.

3. Thermal and Evolved Gas Analyzer (TEGA) -built by the University of Arizona and University of Texas, Dallas. TEGA is a combination high-temperature furnace and mass spectrometer instrument that scientists will use to analyze Martian ice and soil samples.

4. Microscopy, Electrochemistry, and Conductivity Analyzer (MECA) – built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. MECA is a combination of several scientific instruments including a wet chemistry laboratory, optical and atomic force microscopes, and a thermal and electrical conductivity probe.

5. Meteorological Station (MET) – built by the Canadian Space Agency. Throughout the course of Phoenix surface operations, MET will record the daily weather of the Martian northern plains.

6. Robotic Arm (RA) – built by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The RA is critical to the operations of the Phoenix lander and is designed to dig trenches, scoop up soil and water ice samples and deliver these samples to the TEGA and MECA instruments for detailed chemical and geological analysis.

7. Robotic Arm Camera (RAC) – built by the University of Arizona and Max Planck Institute, Germany. The RAC is attached to the Robotic Arm (RA) just above the scoop.


The four selected mission concepts and the Principal Investigators were:

1.  SCIM (Sample Collection for Investigation of Mars):
Professor Laurie Leshin, Arizona State University, Tempe. 
Using aerogel and a “free-return trajectory” to bring the samples back to Earth. Samples could provide breakthrough understanding of the chemistry of Mars, its surface, atmosphere, interior evolution and potential biological activity.

2. ARES (Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Survey):
Dr. Joel Levine, NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va. 
ARES offered to provide the first in situ measurements of the near-surface atmospheric chemistry within the Mars planetary-boundary layer, thereby providing critical clues to the chemical evolution of the planet, climate history, and potential biological activity.

3. Phoenix:
Dr. Peter Smith, University of Arizona, Tucson.
To conduct a stationary, in situ investigation of volatiles (especially water), organic molecules and modern climate.

4. MARVEL (Mars Volcanic Emission and Life Scout):
Dr. Mark Allen, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
To conduct a global survey of the Martian atmosphere’s photochemistry to search for emissions that could be related to active volcanism or microbial activity, as well as to track the behavior of water in the atmosphere across a full annual cycle.


* NASA announced the Mars Scout 2002 Announcement of Opportunity on May 1, 2002. The Mars Scout competition was designed to augment or complement, but not duplicate, major missions being planned as part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program or those under development by foreign space agencies. The selected Scout science mission was to be ready for launch before December 31, 2007, within a total mission cost cap of $325 million.

* 25 proposals were submitted to NASA in August 2002 in response to Announcement of Opportunity. Each received up to $500,000 to conduct a six month implementation feasibility study focused on cost, management and technical plans, including educational outreach and small business involvement.

* On December 6, 2002 NASA selected four Mars mission concepts for detailed study.

* NASA chose Phoenix for full development as the first Mars Scout mission on August 4, 2003.

* On June 2 2005 NASA gave the green light to allow the Phoenix mission to proceed with preparing the spacecraft for launch in August 2007. This major milestone followed a critical review of the project’s planning progress and preliminary design, since its selection in 2003.

Did you know?

The NASA Scout program is an initiative for smaller, lower-cost, competed spacecraft. Scouts are innovative and relatively low-cost complements to the core missions of NASA’s Mars exploration program. Phoenix was the first Mars Scout Mission.

The Mars Scout Program is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California for the Office of Space Science, Washington.

– The previous NASA mission was Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which was launched in 2005. Phoenix will be followed by Mars Science Laboratory.

 –  In 2002, the NASA Mars Odyssey orbiter found evidence of ice rich soil near the surface in the artic regions.

Books and DVDs:

Books on MarsSection with various books on topics related to Planet Mars.

Mars DVD: Includes documentaries, TV shows and movies.

Mars Phoenix Lander Links

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