The Center for Astrobiology is ready to travel to Mars for the third time


Artistic recreation of the Perseverance and Ingenuity rover. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA is all set for the launch of the Mars 2020 mission to Mars on July 30. Among the scientific instruments on board the Perseverance rover is MEDA, an environmental station led by the Center for Astrobiology (CAB) and INTA that will be responsible for characterizing the environment and monitoring radiation and dust. When it landed on Mars in February 2021, it will become the third Spanish environmental station operating on the red planet.

The study of Mars carried out through robotic missions in orbit and on the surface in recent decades has shown that the red planet was once very different from the planet we know today, arid and cold. The evidence gathered points to the existence of wet conditions present billions of years ago that could lead to the development of microbial life. 

The Mars 2020 mission is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program and consists of the Perseverance rover (similar to Curiosity) that features scientific instruments and systems designed to characterize the geology and atmospheric environment of Mars and detect signs of past life. The mission will collect and store a set of rock and soil samples to be brought to Earth in future missions. It will also test new technology, which is expected to be beneficial for future robotic and human exploration of Mars. Among all this technology stands Out Ingenuity, a small helicopter that will be the first flying ingenuity to work on another planet. 

The launch of Mars 2020 will take place from Cape Canaveral Air Base in Florida,USA on July 30 and will be made aboard a ULA Atlas 541 rocket. The landing is scheduled for February 18, 2021 and the landing site will be Jezero Crater. The mission will last at least one Martian year (two Earth years). 

The Perseverance rover is the size of a car and is about the same dimensions as Curiosity: 3 meters long, 2.7 meters wide and 2.2 meters high. But at 1,025 kg, Perseverance weighs approximately 126 kg more than Curiosity. It will have an advanced set of instruments, among which is MEDA (Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer). It will be in charge of environmental characterization and surface dust, recording all these magnitudes uninterrupted for the entire duration of the mission. The sensors are distributed across the vehicle deck and mast, and will perform their operations in coordination with the rest of the instruments that are also part of the mission. Specifically, MEDA consists of seven sensors to measure wind direction and speed, relative humidity, atmospheric pressure, ultraviolet, infrared and visible incident solar radiation, properties of dust in suspension, soil and air temperature, and also a camera for taking images of the Martian sky (including clouds).

MEDA has been built by an international team, led by the Center for Astrobiology, and of which the following Spanish institutions are also part: the National Institute of Aerospace Technique (specifically its Department of Useful Loads), the University of Alcalá, the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (Micro and Nanotechnology Group), the University of Seville/Instituto de Microelectronics of Seville, the Instituto de Química-Física Rocasolano, the University of the Basque Country, and the companies Airbus DS-Tres Cantos, ALTER Technology, and AVS Added Value Solutions. The following international institutions are also part of the consortium: the North American Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Cornell University, NASA Goddard, Lunar and Planetary Institute, Aeolis Research and the Space Science Institute; University of Padua, Italy; and the Finnish Meteorological Institute. The Centre for Industrial Technological Development (CDTI) and the Ministry of Science and Innovation have also participated in development as funding agents. 

Upon arrival on Mars, MEDA will join the two environmental stations that THE CAB currently has operating on Mars. This is REMS (Rover Environmental Monitoring Station) that arrived on the red planet in 2012 aboard the Curiosity rover; and TWINS (Temperature and Wind for InSight mission) that landed in 2018 aboard InSight.

For José Antonio Rodríguez Manfredi, CAB engineer and lead researcher at MEDA, "with respect to its predecessors, REMS and TWINS, MEDA incorporates numerous technological improvements and more ambitious scientific goals. All this makes this new environmental station of Perseverance a next-generation instrument, which integrates much more into the objectives of human exploration of Mars".

In addition to MEDA, the Perseverance rover will feature six other instruments. Mastcam-Z, an advanced camera system, will allow you to capture panoramic, stereoscopic and zoom images. SuperCam, will provide images, chemical composition analysis and remote mineralogy. PIXL, a fluorescent X-ray spectrometer that will analyze the chemical composition of Martian surface materials. SHERLOC, a spectrometer that will provide images on a very thin scale, and will use an ultraviolet (UV) laser to analyze organic minerals and compounds. MOXIE, a technological demonstration that will produce oxygen from existing carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere that can be used by future astronauts. RIMFAX, a penetration radar to analyze the geological structure of the subsurface.

MEDA will not be the only "made in Spain" contribution to the Mars 2020 mission. The Perseverance rover will also feature a high-gain antenna built in Spain. It is the same type of antenna (HGAS, High-Gain Antenna System) that has been installed on the Curiosity rover and has been operating on Mars since 2012. The high-gain antenna, which will allow direct communication of the rover with Earth, has been developed by a consortium formed by Airbus Defense and Space and Sener, with the CDTI as the funding agency.


Fuente: UCC-CAB

Fecha: 2020-07-23


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