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Future Mars rover mission could rely on new supersonic parachutes, atomic clocks (+video)

As NASA's planetary exploration budget is squeezed, NASA scientists are finding new ways to lower the costs of future Mars rover missions.

This 11-minute animation depicts key events of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, which will launch in late 2011 and land a rover, Curiosity, on Mars in August 2012.
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A possible rover mission to Mars within the next eight years may rely on a larger parachutes, atomic clocks and inflatable decelerators, NASA's Mars exploration chief says.

With a large NASA rover only weeks away from arriving at the Red Planet, NASA's Doug McCuistion outlined ideas for another, far less expensive Martian mission in 2018 or 2020.

The inflatable decelerators, also known as ballutes, and big parachutes would help the spacecraft reduce its speed through the Martian atmosphere, while the atomic clocks would improve its landing accuracy, McCuistion announced Tuesday (July 10) at the Farnborough International Airshow here.

NASA expects to have up to $800 million to spend on the mission. That's a far cry from the $2.5 billion the agency is spending on its 1-ton Curiosity rover, which is due to land on the Red Planet Aug. 5.

"That price point [$800 million] is frankly around the point of a Discovery mission," McCuistion told SPACE.com. "Those missions tend to be characterized by simple systems, not too challenging." [The Best (And Worst) Mars Landings in History]

McCuisition added that he likely won’t have the budget to fund the ballutes, parachutes and atomic clocks. Instead, NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist probably would pay for them.

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