The weather often plays a role in our daily plans. You might put on a light jacket when the forecast calls for a cool breeze or delay your travel plans because of an impending storm. NASA engineers use weather data to inform their plans, too, which is why they’re analyzing the conditions millions of miles away on Mars.
The Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA) system aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover first powered on for 30 minutes Feb. 19, approximately one day after the rover touched down on the Red Planet. Around 8:25 p.m. PST that same day, engineers received initial data from MEDA.
“After a nail-biting entry descent and landing phase, our MEDA team anxiously awaited the first data that would confirm our instrument landed safely,” said Jose Antonio Rodriguez-Manfredi, MEDA principal investigator with the Centro de Astrobiología (CAB) at the Instituto Nacional de Tecnica Aeroespacial in Madrid. “Those were moments of great intensity and excitement. Finally, after years of work and planning, we received the first data report from MEDA. Our system was alive and sending its first meteorological data and images from the SkyCam.”
MEDA weighs roughly 12 pounds (5.5 kilograms) and contains a suite of environmental sensors to record dust levels and six atmospheric conditions—wind (both speed and direction), pressure, relative humidity, air temperature, ground temperature, and radiation (from both the Sun and space). The system wakes itself up every hour, and after recording and storing data, it goes to sleep independently of rover operations. The system records data whether the rover is awake or not, both day and night.
As engineers received MEDA’s first data points on Earth, the team pieced together its first weather report from the Jezero Crater on Mars.
The data showed it was just below minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 degrees Celsius) on the surface when the system started recording, and that temperature dropped to minus 14 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 25.6 degrees Celsius) within 30 minutes.
MEDA’s radiation and dust sensor showed Jezero was experiencing a cleaner atmosphere than Gale Crater around the same time, roughly 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) away, according to reports from the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) aboard the Curiosity rover stationed inside Gale. And MEDA’s pressure sensors told engineers the pressure on Mars was 718 Pascals, well within the 705-735 Pascal range predicted by their models for that time on Mars.
Bridging the Atmospheric Gap
Thanks to telescopes here on Earth and spacecraft orbiting Mars, scientists have a good understanding of the Red Planet’s climate and even some insight into the magnitude of dust storms throughout a single Martian year (two Earth years). However, predicting dust lifting and transport, or how small storms evolve into large ones encircling the whole planet, will benefit future science and exploration missions.
Over the next year, MEDA will provide valuable information on temperature cycles, heat fluxes, dust cycles, and how dust particles interact with light, ultimately affecting both the temperature and weather. Just as important will be MEDA’s readings of solar radiation intensity, cloud formations, and local winds that might inform the design of the planned Mars Sample Return mission. Additionally, the measurements will help engineers better understand how to prepare humans and habitats to deal with the conditions on Mars.
REMS aboard the Curiosity rover currently provides similar daily weather and atmospheric data. MEDA, conceived through an international collaboration, builds upon REMS’ autonomous weather station setup and features a few upgrades. The system was provided by Spain and developed by CAB with contributions from the Finnish Meteorological Institute. The U.S. contributions were funded by the Game Changing Development program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.
Boasting higher overall durability and additional temperature readings, MEDA can record the temperature at three atmospheric heights: 2.76 feet (0.84 meters), 4.76 feet (1.45 meters), and 98.43 feet (30 meters), in addition to the surface temperature. The system uses sensors on the rover’s body and mast and an infrared sensor capable of measuring temperature nearly 100 feet above the rover. MEDA also records the radiation budget near the surface, which will help prepare for future human exploration missions on Mars.
With MEDA’s weather reports, engineers now have atmospheric data from three different locations on the Red Planet—Perseverance, Curiosity, and NASA’s InSight lander, which hosts the Temperature and Wind sensors for InSight (TWINS). The trio will enable a deeper understanding of Martian weather patterns, events, and atmospheric turbulence that could influence planning for future missions. In the near term, MEDA’s information is helping decide the best atmospheric conditions for the Ingenuity Mars Helicopter flights.
As Ingenuity achieved pre-flight milestones, a MEDA report from the 43rd and 44th Martian days, or sols, of the mission (April 3-4 on Earth) showed a temperature high of minus 7.6 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 22 degrees Celsius) and low of minus 117.4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 83 degrees Celsius) in Jezero Crater. MEDA also measured wind gusts at around 22 mph (10 meters per second).
“We’re very excited to see MEDA working well,” said Manuel de la Torre Juárez, deputy principal investigator for MEDA at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “MEDA’s reports will provide a better picture of the environment near the surface. Data from MEDA and other instrument experiments will reveal more pieces of the puzzles on Mars and help prepare for human exploration. We hope that its data will help make our designs stronger and our missions safer.”
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
NASA’s first weather report from Jezero Crater on Mars (2021, April 6)
retrieved 6 April 2021
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To help chart the cosmos, Western space researchers turn to crowd sourcing – CBC.ca
Western University researchers have tapped the help of hundreds of amateur and professional astronomers in an effort to make sure no meteor is unable to slip by the Earth undetected.
To do that, they’re relying on the observations taken from 450 cameras in 30 different countries manned by “enthusiastic amateur astronomers” made up of professional and citizen scientists.
That data is then sent to Western University as part of what’s called the Global Meteor Network (GMN), headed by Denis Vida.
“So we have a lot of enthusiastic amateur astronomers, citizen scientists and also professionals that build, operate and maintain these cameras,” Vida told CBC’s Chris dela Torre during Afternoon Drive. “And every night they inspect the data set and send their data to a central server here at the University of Western Ontario.”
It’s not just about observing meteors – it’s about tracking what’s left of the ones that make it to the earth’s surface too.
“So we also observe a meteorite dropping fireballs,” said Vida. “They’re quite rare over an area of let’s say the country the size of France or Spain. Could only expect two to three of those fireballs a year that drop more than, let’s say, 300 grams of meteorites on the ground.”
“So because these events are very rare, it is important to observe 24/7.”
Vida explained that when one of their cameras spot one of them, they collect the data and find its location so they can retrieve what’s left for analysis – and analysis needs to happen quickly.
“There are certain things in them, like some radionuclide to decay very quickly, but those can tell us how old the meteorite is, how long it was after it was ejected from the parent asteroid that it fell on the ground,” he said.
Vida explained that what ends up on the ground are just “several kilograms of materials” by the time they reach the earth’s surface. They aren’t hot either. They cool down on their descent.
Global push to monitor meteor showers led by Western University – CTV News London
MIDDLESEX CENTRE, ONT. —
London, Ont.’s Western University is leading a worldwide effort to monitor meteor showers and meteorite falls.
The Global Meteor Network (GMN) includes more than 450 cameras in 23 countries – hosted by amateur and professional astronomers.
The goal of the project, led by Denis Vida, a postdoctoral associate at Western, is to ensure unique or rare space events are not missed.
Vida explained in a statement, “Other astronomers can pool their resources to build a big telescope on top of a mountain where the skies are dark and clear year-round, but meteor astronomers need spatial coverage most of all.”
Meteors can occur anywhere in the world, happen close to earth and often burn up at around 100 km above the surface — so they can only be well observed from within about 300 km and need to be seen by cameras in at least two places to get the exact location.
That’s where the Global Meteor Network comes in.
In March, the network helped locate a rare portion of a meteorite that landed in Winchcombe, England on Feb. 28 and figure out where in space it originated.
“Its role in the recovery and analysis of the Winchcombe meteorite fall is proof positive that GMN works,” said Vida.
The first system to observe meteorites was installed at Western in 2017, and it continues to grow as the cost of meteor cameras has declined.
GMN also publishes the orbits of all observed meteors around the world within 24 hours of observation. The location of cameras and meteor data can be seen here.
The network also hopes to better understand flight patterns and flux capacities of meteorites, and even predict future events.
MDA gets $35.3 million contract from Canadian Space Agency for Canadarm 3 components – Times Colonist
BRAMPTON, Ont. — The Canadian Space Agency has awarded a contract worth $35.3 million to MDA Ltd. to design a key component of Canadarm 3.
The funds will be used to design Gateway External Robotics Interfaces or grapple fixtures for Canadarm 3, which is Canada’s contribution to the United States-led Lunar Gateway, a small space station that will orbit the moon.
The contract is a follow-on to the first phase of interface work awarded in August 2019. A construction phase will likely be awarded in about a year.
The first elements of Gateway will launch in 2024, with Canadarm 3 scheduled to launch two years later.
The contract is the third awarded to MDA for the multi-phase Canadarm 3 program valued at more than $1 billion.
Canadarm flew on 90 space shuttle missions after debuting in 1981. Canadarm 2 has been operating on the International Space Station for more than 20 years.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 26, 2021.
Companies in this story: (TSX:MDA)
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