With SEP, solar arrays create electricity that ionizes (charges) atoms in xenon, a propellant, that are then pushed out the back of the spacecraft to create thrust.
"This has the potential to provide fuel-friendly orbit changes and enhanced power and mass for payloads in orbit around Mars," wrote the Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group, which represents the Mars research science community, in a recent report.
MEPAG created the paper to discuss the science goals of the possible orbiter mission, which is supposed to meet the highest priority for flagship missions outlined in the National Research Council's 2011 Planetary Science Decadal Survey: to send a sample back from Mars. The NRC also wants to close the gap in finding resources for potential human missions to the planet (which would fit in with NASA's desires as well.)
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There are other "compelling" questions the NRC raised that an orbiter could help answer about the Red Planet, the authors write. These include:
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