The DownlinkMay 24, 2024

Mars rovers, helicopters, and sunsets

Space Snapshot

Mars crater birds eye utopia

This giant crater on Mars is eye-catching not only for its size, but its smoothness — a hint that water ice has played a role in its past. When the asteroid that carved out this crater made impact, it likely melted some ice, launching both rock and liquid water out and away. Now, the crater stretches over 8 kilometers (roughly 5 miles) wide. As ESA’s ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter passed overhead, the spacecraft nearly failed to fit the entire feature inside its field of view. Image credit: ESA/TGO/CaSSIS.

Fact Worth Sharing

Mars illustration

Though Mars is known as the red planet, its sunsets are blue. Very fine dust in the Martian atmosphere scatters redder light more effectively, so when the Sun is very low in the sky, red tones tend to get filtered out. This leaves blues more likely to reach someone standing on the surface.

Mission Briefings

Exomars art

ESA and NASA will team up for the next Mars rover. The Rosalind Franklin rover is set to be Europe’s first on Mars, but it has been stalled ever since a collaboration with Russia fell apart following the invasion of Ukraine. Now, NASA has agreed to pick up the slack by providing launch capabilities and components of the spacecraft’s landing and heating systems. Planned to touch down in 2029, Rosalind Franklin will drill deep into the Martian soil to look for signs of past life. Image credit: ESA.


After 60 years, NASA’s first Black astronaut candidate has finally made it to space. Ed Dwight, an Air Force pilot who was recommended — but passed over — for NASA’s astronaut corps in the 1960s, reached space at last as a passenger on a private mission instead. Blue Origin’s New Shephard spacecraft took Dwight and five others on the suborbital flight. Along the way, Dwight broke William Shatner’s record as the oldest person ever to visit space.


India’s next Mars mission could feature a helicopter. Officials from the country’s space agency have revealed that Mangalyaan-2 will not only aim to land on Mars, but also deploy a rover and a helicopter. This combination echoes NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, which brought both the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter to the red planet. Mangalyaan-2 currently lacks a launch date, but if successful, the mission would make India the fourth country to ever soft-land on Mars.


The Artemis Accords have expanded to 40 countries. First established in 2020, the statement of principles regarding space exploration has rapidly been taken up by a broad coalition of international partners.

From The Planetary Society

National havoc robot league battle
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Battle bots cause more than just mayhem. They also inspire new generations of roboticists and encourage them to pursue their dreams of working on projects like space missions. On this week’s Planetary Radio, hear from Kelly Biderman, the CEO of Havoc Robotics, about how the National Havoc Robot League provides community and support for those who want to help explore the Universe. Florence Pouya, the former captain of the Afghan Girls Robotics Team, joins in to share her perspective with our senior communications adviser, Mat Kaplan. Pictured: Battle at a National Havoc Robot League competition. Image credit: Havoc Robotics.

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Did you know Earth has quasi-moons and minimoons? Our planet may only have one true natural satellite — the Moon — but our neighborhood is also full of smaller bodies, some with unusual orbits. We’re only just beginning to uncover what these pseudo-moons have to teach us. The first mission to a quasi-moon, China’s Tianwen-2, is set to launch next year.

New in the member community

Mat kaplan garry hunt interview

Planetary People kicks off. To inaugurate our new series in the member community, host Mat Kaplan interviewed Garry Hunt, former NASA scientist and co-host of BBC’s The Sky at Night. Hunt shared memories of his time working on the Viking and Voyager missions, offered his thoughts on the recent layoffs at JPL, and described how he recently came to be knighted by King Charles.

What's Up

Saturn illustration

In the predawn east, look for Mercury low to the east, with yellowish Saturn and reddish Mars above it. Learn more about what May’s night skies have in store.

Wow of the Week

Jupiter with amalthea

As NASA’s Juno spacecraft flew by Jupiter, it took these images of the planet’s fifth largest moon, Amalthea. On the left, Amalthea is caught perfectly in the foreground of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, while on the right, the moon is closer to the bottom-center of the planet. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS; image processing by Gerald Echstädt.

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