Mars One invites school pupils to design first mission
The first private spacecraft to land on Mars will carry experiments designed by students and school pupils, the firm behind the project has said.
Mars One plans to send a robot lander similar to Nasa's Phoenix to test water purification and solar power modules.
The Dutch-led firm hopes to establish a human settlement on Martian soil in 2025, by offering one-way tickets.
A satellite to relay live TV pictures, built by UK firm SSTL, will also be sent in the 2018 demonstration mission.
The launch date has slipped two years later than originally announced, meaning the first colonists' arrival will also be delayed - 2025 is the new target.
More than 200,000 contestants have applied to leave Earth forever, of which only four will be selected for the first mission.
But first the firm has to test the technologies required for a permanent human settlement - and this begins with the robotic lander.
One experiment on board will attempt to extract water from the Martian soil and purify it.
A power module will demonstrate thin-film solar panels, while a robotic arm will scoop up soil.
A camera on the lander will be used to make continuous video recordings - beamed back to Earth by a communications satellite built by SSTL (Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd).
The British firm's low-cost design appeals to Mars One, which has yet to secure the funding for this test mission, let alone the estimated $6bn it requires to send its first four human citizens.
Today it opened an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign offering donors the chance to send objects to Mars and vote on future "mission decisions".
It will also launch a "University Challenge" inviting young engineers - and even school pupils - to design science experiments that will be sent to Martian soil.
"It could also be something fun - like a balloon to float above Mars and take photographs," said co-founder Bas Lansdorp.
"We want to inspire young people to participate in Mars exploration."
But he said the bulk of its funding will come from corporate sponsors and billionaire philanthropists to fund the mission.
"We're in very serious discussions with partners. We are more confident than ever that we can make this first mission a reality," he told a press conference.
"This is the next giant leap for mankind. The most exciting event in history.
"The Olympics was worth $4bn in TV rights, so I think footage of the first humans on Mars has a lot of value."
The involvement of Lockheed Martin is a boost for the project - the firm has been involved in many Nasa missions to the Red Planet.
And the firm has already begun designing the lander, said its civil space chief engineer Ed Sedivy.
"This is the first privately funded exploration of a planet. If you think about that, it's really, really cool," he said.
"This is the dawn of a new era of space exploration. We're really excited."
Sir Martin Sweeting, of SSTL, said the firm would adapt its existing low-cost Earth orbiting comms satellite to cope with the demands of a 24-hour Martian TV programme.
A much bigger antenna will be needed to beam back live HDTV, and larger solar panels to cope with the greater distance from the Sun.
"Mars has been a dream for us for many years," he told the press conference.
"For me, this is what it's all about."