Instruments Chosen for Mars Mission
WASHINGTON, August 16, 2010 — NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have selected the scientific instruments for their first joint mission to Mars. Scheduled for 2016, it will study the chemical makeup of the Martian atmosphere, including methane. Discovered on the red planet in 2003, methane could point to life there.
NASA and ESA have embarked on a joint program of Martian exploration, an unprecedented new alliance for future ventures to Mars. The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter is the first in a planned series of joint missions leading to the return of a sample from the surface of Mars. Scientists worldwide were invited to propose the spacecraft’s instruments.
An artist’s impression of the ESA/NASA ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. The spacecraft will carry a European entry, descent and landing demonstrator vehicle. (Image: ESA)
“To fully explore Mars, we want to marshal all the talents we can on Earth,” said David Southwood, ESA Director for Science and Robotic Exploration.
Speaking on the search for methane, Southwood said, “We got our first sniff of the gas with Mars Express in 2003; NASA has since clearly confirmed this. Mapping methane allows us to investigate further that most important of questions: Is Mars a living planet and, if not, can or will it become so in the future?”
The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter will map the variation of Martian methane with unprecedented accuracy, helping to determine whether the methane is biologically or volcanically produced. (Image: NASA)
ESA and NASA selected five science instruments from the 19 proposals submitted in January 2010 in response to an Announcement of Opportunity for the first mission. The chosen instruments were judged to have the best scientific value and lowest risk, and will be developed by international teams of scientists and engineers on both sides of the Atlantic.
“Independently, NASA and ESA have made amazing discoveries up to this point,” said Ed Weiler, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Working together, we’ll reduce duplication of effort, expand our capabilities and see results neither ever could have achieved alone.”
In addition to the Trace Gas Orbiter, the 2016 mission will carry Europe’s entry, descent and landing demonstration vehicle. The whole mission will be launched on a NASA rocket.
The selection of the instruments begins the first phase of the new NASA-ESA alliance for future ventures to Mars. The instruments and the principal investigators are:
Mars Atmosphere Trace Molecule Occultation Spectrometer
A spectrometer designed to detect very low concentrations of the molecular components of the Martian atmosphere: Paul Wennberg, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.
High Resolution Solar Occultation and Nadir Spectrometer
A spectrometer designed to detect traces of the components of the Martian atmosphere and to map where they are on the surface: Ann C. Vandaele, Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, Brussels, Belgium.
ExoMars Climate Sounder
An infrared radiometer that provides daily global data on dust, water vapor and other materials to provide the context for data analysis from the spectrometers: John Schofield, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
High Resolution Color Stereo Imager
A camera that provides four-color stereo imaging at a resolution of two million pixels over an 8.5-km swath: Alfred McEwen, University of Arizona.
Mars Atmospheric Global Imaging Experiment
A wide-angle, multispectral camera to provide global images of Mars in support of the other instruments: Bruce Cantor, Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, Calif.
The science teams on all the instruments have broad international participation from Europe and the US, with important hardware contributions from Canada and Switzerland.
NASA and ESA share a common interest in conducting robotic missions to the red planet for scientific purposes and to prepare for possible human visits. After a series of extensive discussions, the science heads of both agencies agreed on a plan of cooperation during a July 2009 meeting in Plymouth, UK, later confirmed by ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain and NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a statement of intent that was signed in November 2009.
The plan consists of two Mars cooperative missions in 2016 and 2018, and a later joint sample return mission. The 2016 mission features the European-built ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a European-built small lander demonstrator, a primarily American international science payload, and NASA-provided launch vehicle and communications components. ESA member states will provide additional instrument support.
The 2018 mission consists of a European rover with drilling capability, a NASA rover capable of caching selected samples for potential future return to Earth, a NASA landing system, and a NASA launch vehicle. These activities are designed to serve as the foundation of a cooperative program to increase science returns and move the agencies toward a joint Mars sample return mission in the 2020s.
NASA’s Mars Exploration Program seeks to characterize and understand Mars as a dynamic system, including its present and past environment, climate cycles, geology and potential for life. JPL manages the program and development of the NASA-supplied instruments for the 2016 orbiter for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
For more information, visit: www.nasa.gov/mars
- The science of radiation measurement. The detection and measurement of radiant energy, either as separate wavelengths or integrated over a broad wavelength band, and the interaction of radiation with matter in such ways as absorption, reflectance and emission.
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