NASA's plans to put a long-armed Phoenix lander on the icy northern Martian plains have been given the go ahead.

Phoenix, which is scheduled for an August 2007 launch, will use a robotic arm to dig down to the Martian ice layer and deliver samples to analytical instruments on the lander's deck. It is specifically designed to measure water and organic molecules in the planet's northern polar region.

In 2002, NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter found evidence of ice-rich soil very near the surface in arctic regions of Mars.

Phoenix is the first project in NASA's Mars Scout Programme of innovative and relatively low-cost add-ons to the core missions of the Mars exploration programme.

The project is based on the 2001 Mars Surveyor lander, which was mothballed in 2000. Many of the scientific instruments for Phoenix were built or designed for that mission or flew on the unsuccessful Mars Polar Lander in 1999.

The cost of the Phoenix mission is $386 million, which includes the launch. The Phoenix team comprises the University of Arizona; NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Lockheed Martin Space Systems, and the Canadian Space Agency, which is providing weather-monitoring instruments.

Source: Flight Daily News