Herd won’t actually go to Mars, but will be one of 10 experts who will help ensure samples collected by the rover will give insights to the planet’s geological history.
“My interest in Mars goes back a long time. In fact, I was 13 years old when I decided that I wanted to work on rocks from Mars.”
“I guess you can say that I had a life-long goal to work on these Mars rocks,” Herd said.
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The rover will land on the planet Feb. 18, 2021. It will seek signs of past microbial life and characterize the planet’s climate and geology. It will be the first rover to ever carry a drill for coring samples from Martian rocks and soil.
0:37 NASA puts Mars 2020 rover design to the test
NASA puts Mars 2020 rover design to the test
“The rocks that we really want are three-and-half or four-billion years old, from sediments that were laid down by water under conditions that we know life could of survived.”
“We are really looking for evidence of life,” Herd said.
“The main driver for this mission is going with the right instruments, interrogating these rocks, in this case, in an area that was a crater lake. So an area that was filled with water and a river flowed into it and the river deposited sediments in the bottom of the lake on what’s called a delta.”
“The delta sediments became rock and are still there, that was three-and-half, four-billion years ago, we think approximately when that happened, and the rocks are still there for us to go and interrogate.
“So the whole idea is that any life that was living in the lake or that was living up in the area that was drained by the rivers would be carried in and preserved as rocks.”
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The rover is car-sized, weighing about 2,260 pounds, and is about 10 feet long, nine feet wide and seven feet tall.
Collecting samples and bringing them back will be a multi-stage process. First, they will drill for the samples and later, another rover will be sent to space to collect them, and then they will be brought back to Earth.
“It will come back, probably no earlier than 2031. There are 31 samples that can be collected. They will be about 10 centimetres long and a couple centimetres across.”
Herd compared this mission to when Apollo samples were collected.
“This is the first step in bringing samples from Mars, to do what the Apollo samples did for our understanding of the moon. Those samples are still being worked on today by researchers all around the world.”
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Herd said the Mars will be a legacy for future generations.
0:34 Rover McRoverface? NASA holds open content to name the Mars Rover
Rover McRoverface? NASA holds open content to name the Mars Rover
The InSight lander has been on the surface of Mars for about a year, and a half dozen papers were just published outlining some results from the mission. Though InSight’s primary mission is to gather evidence on the interior of Mars—InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport—the lander also keeps track of Martian Meteorology. A new paper reports that InSight has found gravity waves, swirling dust devils, and a steady background rumble of infrasound.
InSight’s primary science instruments are designed to probe the interior structure of Mars. They include the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), and the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE). But another suite of instruments, called the Auxiliary Payload Sensor Suite (APSS), measures the temperature, wind, atmospheric pressure and magnetic field near the lander.
Altogether the APSS is a weather station—and more—that gives daily weather reports from its location on Mars.
Some of the findings are not necessarily that surprising. The daily temperature and pressure fluctuations are more pronounced on Mars than on Earth. “The atmosphere is so thin that it can heat up and cool down much faster than on Earth,” said lead author Banfield in a press release.
But according to the science team, the discovery of gravity waves (not gravitational waves) was a surprise. Gravity waves are generated in a fluid, which in physics includes atmospheric gases, when those fluids are out of equilibrium. As the fluid seeks equilibrium, the waves are propagated.
On Earth gravity waves can create distinct cloud forms called wave clouds. There are still questions about Martian gravity waves. “We’re still working to understand what these waves can teach us about Mars,” Banfield said. In their paper the researchers said they discovered “unexpected similarities between atmospheric turbulence on Earth and Mars.”
The researchers also discovered what’s known as infrasound on Mars, something that they expected to find. Infrasound is a low-frequency rumble that’s outside the range of human hearing, below 10 Hertz. “We expected infrasound would exist, but this is the first direct measurement,” Banfield said. “It’s still mysterious as to exactly what causes the signals we’ve heard, but we’ll keep studying.”
InSight also sensed thousands of dust devils during its first year, though none were ever seen by the lander’s cameras. “We have seen the pressure signature of thousands of dust devils, and we have tried to take images at the right times of day,” Banfield said. “We’ve caught absolutely no dust devils on camera. Other landers have more effortlessly imaged dust devils, so it’s surprising that we haven’t even captured an image of one.”
“This site has more whirlwinds than any other place we’ve landed on Mars while carrying weather sensors,” said Aymeric Spiga, an atmospheric scientist at Sorbonne University in Paris.
Overall, the APSS is giving scientists the opportunity to study up close an atmosphere other than Earth’s. Orbiters and other landers have watched the Martian atmosphere, but InSight is giving us our most continuous and accurate sampling of atmospheric conditions on the red planet. In their paper, the team of researchers states that InSight “extends our understanding of Mars’s meteorology at all scales.”
Not only do the lander’s instruments take frequent measurements of conditions at its locale, but it also sat through a large dust storm shortly after it reached Mars. These large storms occur frequently on Mars, sometimes becoming truly global storms.
Mars is much drier than Earth, obviously. On Earth the moisture in the atmosphere plays a large role. On Mars, it’s the dust that plays a significant role. The airborne dust has an oversize impact on Mars’ thin, sunlight controlled atmosphere. The dust contributes to gravity wave features near the surface, though the researchers don’t have a clear picture of how it all works yet.
Mars researchers are excited by InSight’s capabilities and results so far. Though other satellite-based research has looked at the upper atmosphere for extended periods of time, InSight is the first ground level, in-situ, long-lasting measuring station for the Martian atmosphere. InSight’s APSS measurements not only supplement orbital measurements, but the data can serve to help prove or disprove models of the Martian atmosphere.
InSight has also detected airglow and noctilucent clouds at Mars, both of which are upper atmosphere phenomena. Along with the gravity waves, the unseen dust devils, and the infrasound, that’s a treasure trove of data for the lander’s first year.
With about one more year to go in the mission, who knows what else the lander will unearth? Especially if the HP3 starts working.
Western University researchers have an inside track on developing sensory technology that could be used on future space missions.
A team led by the university’s space director Gordon Osinski was chosen by the Canadian Space Agency to develop an “integrated vision system” for rover missions, Western announced Tuesday.
Osinski describes the technology — that would document the surface of the moon and help select samples to bring back to Earth — as the “eyes” of the lunar rovers that could be launched during the next few years.
“One of our ultimate goals is building hardware and launching it into space and being involved in space missions,” he said. “Getting this contract is the first step to — hopefully, eventually — building a camera system that will go on a rover on the surface of the moon.”
The $700,000 contract will fund a team of research scientists, post-doctoral students and graduate students from the faculties of science and engineering which will work on developing the system.
The camera system would use imaging technology to overcome the lack of sunlight on the moon to collect data and help guide and control the rover.
“We’ve been working on a number of concepts for science instruments for over a decade here at Western. A lot of them do revolve around imaging systems,” Osinski said.
The team’s work during the next 18 months will be designing technology that will survive the rigours of space, he said.
“When we build a space camera, it will be multimillions of dollars, everything space-qualified to withstand extreme temperatures and the radiation in space,” Osinski said. “So, we’re designing this concept with that in mind.”
The team’s mission is to advance the design and technology to a point where they have a prototype “cemented in stone” so they can seek additional funding, he said.
The university’s funding from the Canadian Space Agency comes from a five-year $150-million program to help small and medium-sized businesses develop technologies to be used in lunar orbit and on the moon’s surface.
Western will work with MDA Vision Systems and Sensors on the project.
The university launched the Institute for Earth and Space Exploration last summer with a goal of becoming an international hub for Earth and space exploration research, development and training.
“The institute has taken us to the next level. It signifies that space is an important area across campus,” Osinski said. “This (contract) really established Western as an epicentre for space exploration, research and exploration.”
NASA has committed to return humans to the moon by 2024 in a program known as Artemis. The U.S. space agency also has set a goal of landing on Mars by the 2030s.
Canada has agreed to take part in the NASA-led effort by contributing a smart robotic system to the NASA’s lunar gateway program.
The Government of Canada is investing in new opportunities for Canada to explore the moon.
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is presenting the country’s space community, including small and medium-sized businesses, with the opportunity to contribute technologies to national and international efforts in lunar exploration.
“Our government is positioning Canada’s space sector to reach for the Moon and beyond,” Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, said. “This investment will help Canadian businesses bring their technologies to market, creating opportunities for them to join the growing space economy while supporting Canada to achieve world firsts in space science and exploration.”
The CSA is awarding seven contracts worth a total of $4.36 million to five companies and one university in Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba to advance concepts for nano- and micro-rovers, as well as autonomous science instruments.
These advancements will serve as the first steps towards landing and conducting Canadian science on the surface of the moon, the CSA announced on Tuesday.
CSA’s Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP) is providing $150 million over five years to help small and medium-sized businesses in Canada develop new technologies to be used and tested in lunar orbit and on the moon’s surface in fields that include artificial intelligence, robotics, and health.
The contracts being awarded in Ontario are:
Bubble Technology Industries Inc. will receive $698,321 to develop a spectrometer that will autonomously search for hydrogen to indicate the presence of water and ice near the moon’s surface.
Canadensys Aerospace Corporation will receive two contracts worth a total of $1,099,366 to develop concept designs, technologies and prototypes for two different classes of small Canadian lunar science rovers – a nano-rover and a micro-rover.
Mission Control Space Services Inc. will receive $573,829 to advance an Autonomous Soil Assessment System as an AI-based science support tool for rovers navigating on the moon.
Western Universitywill receive $690,123 to develop an integrated vision system for surface operations that will be used for identification of the geology of the lunar surface and for rover navigation.
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