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NASA plans to send spy telescope to Mars

The spy satellite that was donated to NASA in 2012 might be one of the next objects in line to be sent to Mars.

The satellite was one of two that were built for a National Reconnaissance Office program called Future Imagery Architecture. Unfortunately, the program was terminated in 2005 and NASA acquired both of the instruments in 2012 without plans of what to do with them.

After receiving a slew of proposes from various scientists last November, there might be an answer: send one to orbit Mars.

Scientists envision using one of the satellites to orbit Mars, where it can monitor the surface of the planet and its moons, and at the same time give researchers the ability to examine its surface for future missions. The telescope would have three main components, an imaging spectral mapper, a high-resolution imager and an ultraviolet spectrometer. These instruments would allow the device to make an array of detailed observations. The mapper would have a resolution 100 times better than a similar device that is aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Also, the telescope would give scientists a comprehensive understanding of the landforms throughout the Red Planet.

“This would be fantastic for things like the recurring slope lineae, which we think may be present-day flow of water on Mars,” Alfred McEwen of the University of Arizona, leader of the proposed Mars Orbiting Space Telescope, told  “And for ancient Mars as well — you’re getting mineralogic information at much higher spatial resolution, and now you’re seeing things at the scale that you can investigate in the field with rovers.”

The information collected from the satellite would help NASA determine the best places to send a sample-return mission or a manned base. Yet, it would also provide the ability to look outward as well. While the telescope’s UV spectrometer would be similar to the Hubble Space Telescope, it would not study extremely distant objects. Nevertheless, it would have the ability to study the two moons of mars, as well as other closer objects in the outer solar system.

“We decided to emphasize bright targets, so mostly solar system targets — monitoring Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune atmospheres, monitoring volcanism on [Jupiter’s moon] Io and cloud patterns on [Saturn’s moon] Titan,” McEwen said. “There’s an interesting variety of things you could do in planetary science with it.”

Although many plans for the satellite are still brewing, NASA won’t examine these concepts seriously until the results for the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST), a mission that would study dark energy, are reviewed.