Launched in August 2007, the Phoenix Mars Mission is the first in NASA's Scout Program. Phoenix is designed to study the history of water and habitability potential in the Martian arctic's ice-rich soil.
The Phoenix Mars Mission has a collaborative approach to space exploration. As the very first of NASA's Mars Scout class, Phoenix combines legacy and innovation in a framework of a true partnership: government, academia, and industry. Scout class missions are led by a scientist, known as a Principal Investigator (PI). Peter Smith of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory serves as Phoenix's PI and is responsible for all aspects of the mission.
PI Smith has delegated project management responsibility to JPL. Barry Goldstein serves as the project manager and leads an experienced team of JPL engineers and scientists. Under Goldstein, the JPL team conducts vital functions of payload management, and flight systems and mission operations. These functions are supported by system engineering, mission assurance, and a business office. JPL also provides the interface to the Deep Space Network, sending command sequences and receiving data. During the 10-month cruise phase to Mars, JPL maintains the proper cruise trajectory to get the spacecraft to Mars by performing correcting maneuvers. Finally, JPL will lead the Phoenix spacecraft through the highly risky entry-descent-landing process. No team surpasses JPL in its ability to land spacecraft safely on the Martian surface.
Ed Sedivy leads the Lockheed Martin engineering team in designing, constructing, and testing the Phoenix spacecraft. Sedivy was Lockheed Martin's chief engineer for developing the Mars Surveyor 2001 lander, the highly capable spacecraft that the Phoenix Mission is inheriting. The Lockheed Martin engineering team is restoring the 2001 lander to a flight-ready Phoenix spacecraft and developing enhanced spacecraft reliability through extensive testing. Throughout all phases of the mission, the Lockheed Martin team will closely monitor Phoenix's health by linking their spacecraft operations centers with those at JPL and the University of Arizona.
From the University of Arizona, PI Smith works closely with Leslie Tamppari, project scientist at JPL, to lead an international assembly of scientists from a wide variety of academic, private, and government research institutions. This science team has experience in all previous landed Mars missions. The team's scientific background includes experience in hydrology, geology, chemistry, biology, and atmospheric science. For operations, the team is conceptually divided into four instrument groupings, each with a lead co-investigator (Co-I) scientist. The groups are not intended to be restrictive: Co-Is are expected to have a broad, cross-instrument participation driven by scientific objectives. The science team will co-locate for the first three months of the mission, to operate all the instruments and to perform the first analysis on data that may provide important answers to the following questions: (1) can the Martian arctic support life, (2) what is the history of water at the landing site, and (3) how is the Martian climate affected by polar dynamics?
To answer these questions, Phoenix uses some of the most sophisticated and advanced technology ever sent to Mars. A robust robotic arm built by JPL digs through the soil to the water ice layer underneath, and delivers soil and ice samples to the mission's experiments. On the deck, miniature ovens and a mass spectrometer, built by the University of Arizona and University of Texas-Dallas, will provide chemical analysis of trace matter. A chemistry lab-in-a-box, assembled by JPL, will characterize the soil and ice chemistry. Imaging systems, designed by the University of Arizona, University of Neuchatel (Switzerland) (providing an atomic force microscope), Max Planck Institute (Germany) and Malin Space Science Systems, will provide an unprecedented view of Mars—spanning 12 powers of 10 in scale. The Canadian Space Agency will deliver a meteorological station, marking the first significant involvement of Canada in a mission to Mars.
The University of Arizona will also host the Phoenix Mission's Science Operations Center (SOC) in its Tucson facility. From the SOC, the Phoenix science and engineering teams will command the lander once it is safely landed on Mars, and also, receive data as it is transmitted directly to Earth. A payload interoperability test bed (PIT) will be located with the SOC to verify an optimal integration of Phoenix's complex scientific instruments. Working together, the SOC and PIT will ensure a seamless scientific and engineering process—from science goal to instrument commands to down-linked and analyzed data.
As with all major NASA missions, Phoenix has a comprehensive education and public outreach program. PI Smith leads the program, which is managed by the University of Arizona, and connects to outstanding educational resources in the desert southwest region, and throughout the U.S.
This powerful team is the cornerstone to the Phoenix mission, which has high hopes to be the first mission to "touch" and examine water on Mars—ultimately, to pave the way for future robotic missions, and possibly, human exploration.
Learn more about the Mission History or get answers to Frequently Asked Questions.