THOR (Tracing Habitability, Organics, and Resources)

THOR (Tracing Habitability, Organics, and Resources) is a Mars spacecraft designed for NASA's Mars Scout program. Planned for launch in 2011, THOR (Tracing Habitability, Organics, and Resources) will be the first mission to directly investigate the water ice and other materials that lie below the surface of Mars in a potentially habitable zone.


Like Deep Impact, THOR will involve using a two-part spacecraft consisting of an impactor probe and an observer craft. The impactor is a simple projectile made of pure copper. The observer spacecraft will carry it until shortly before reaching Mars. After being released from the observer, the impactor will streak through the martian atmosphere to an impact site lying between 30° and 60° latitude, in either the northern or southern hemisphere. It is expected to make a crater at least 9 meters (30 feet) deep and a plume of material that will be studied by the observer craft. The observer's instruments will include a visible-light camera and an infrared spectrometer. In addition to studying the plume, the spectrometer's role is to search the martian atmosphere for organic materials and gases such as methane. THOR's crater will remain a test site for current Mars spacecraft and those in years to come. In addition, the crater might also be visited on the ground by a future Mars rover.


THOR is led by Arizona State University in Tempe, in partnership with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).