MarsNews.com
February 7th, 2019

Rosalind Franklin: Mars rover named after DNA pioneer

The Rosalind Franklin rover is due to launch to Mars next year

The UK-assembled rover that will be sent to Mars in 2020 will bear the name of DNA pioneer Rosalind Franklin.

The honour follows a public call for suggestions that drew nearly 36,000 responses from right across Europe.

Astronaut Tim Peake unveiled the name at the Airbus factory in Stevenage where the robot is being put together.

The six-wheeled vehicle will be equipped with instruments and a drill to search for evidence of past or present life on the Red Planet.

Giving the rover a name associated with a molecule fundamental to biology seems therefore to be wholly appropriate.

Rosalind Franklin played an integral role in the discovery of the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid.

It was her X-ray images that allowed James Watson and Francis Crick to decipher its double-helix shape.

Franklin’s early death from ovarian cancer in 1958, aged just 37, meant she never received the recognition given to her male peers.

The attachment to the European Space Agency (Esa) rover will now see her name travel beyond Earth.

“In the last year of Rosalind’s life, I remember visiting her in hospital on the day when she was excited by the news of the [Soviet Sputnik satellite] – the very beginning of space exploration,” Franklin’s sister, Jenifer Glynn, said on Thursday.

“She could never have imagined that over 60 years later there would be a rover sent to Mars bearing her name, but somehow that makes this project even more special.”

February 6th, 2019

Motors on Mars: The technology being sent to explore Mars

Artist’s impression of the Mars helicopter

The US space agency, NASA, has announced that its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) will be sending a helicopter to the Red Planet on the upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission. It will land on Mars while attached to the bottom of the rover in February 2021. During the first 30 days of the mission, it will undertake several autonomous flights, each lasting up to 90 seconds to send the first aerial images (not taken by a satellite) of Mars back to Earth.

For the small helicopter to fly, it takes an enormous engineering effort. The thin air on Mars is comparable to conditions on Earth at an altitude of 30km. Also, taking the reduced Martian gravity into account, the helicopter needs to be very light (1.8kg) and can only carry small batteries.

The components used therefore must be extremely energy-efficient. Six of maxon motors’ 10mm diameter DCX precision micro motors, which have been used in previous Mars missions, will be used to move the swashplate, adjusting the inclination of the rotor blades, to control the vehicle.

The propulsion system is designed and built by AeroVironment, working closely with maxon engineers, under contract from JPL.

“Being part of another Mars pioneering project makes us incredibly proud,” says Eugen Elmiger, CEO of maxon motor.

December 3rd, 2018

Five planned missions to Mars

An artist’s impression of SpaceX’s Starship and Super Heavy Rocket. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Space agencies around the world are set to explore the red planet, while Elon Musk has even grander plans.

July 20th, 2018

New Mars rover needs a name, but Marsy McMarsface likely won’t win

An artist’s depiction of the as-yet-unnamed ExoMars rover on Mars.

ESA/ATG medialab

The European Space Agency plans to send a fresh rover to Mars in 2020 as part of its ongoing ExoMars mission. That rover needs a snappy new name, and the UK Space Agency, ESA and Airbus are turning to the public for suggestions.

We all know what happens when you ask the public to name something. You end up with Boaty McBoatface. But the ExoMars team has a plan to counteract that: The names won’t be up for public vote, and a judging panel will select the final moniker. The winner will get a chance to tour the Airbus facility in the UK where the rover is being built.

People must live in an ESA member state to offer up a name, but you won’t see a list of what’s already been suggested. For that, we have to turn to social media, where space fans are dishing out some ideas, including Marsy McMarsface, Rovey McRoveyface, Rovey McMarsface and Crawly McRockface.

The UK Space Agency will accept naming entries through Oct. 10, 2018. If all goes as planned, the rover will land on Mars in March 2021 on a mission to look for signs of ancient life on the dusty planet.

April 26th, 2018

Europe’s Trace Gas Orbiter sends its first color picture of Mars – and it’s spectacular

An image from the CaSSIS camera on the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter shows the rim of Korolev Crater on Mars. Click on the image for a larger version. (ESA / Roscosmos / CaSSIS Image)

The first color image to come from a camera aboard the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter in its Mars-mapping orbit shows the ice-coated rim of Korolev Crater in sharply shadowed detail.

“We were really pleased to see how good this picture was, given the lighting conditions,” Antoine Pommerol, a member of the science team for the Color and Stereo Surface Imaging System, said today in a news release. “It shows that CaSSIS can make a major contribution to studies of the carbon dioxide and water cycles on Mars.”

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a mission jointly supported by the European and Russian space agencies, is built to measure the composition of Mars’ thin atmosphere with unprecedented accuracy. Its top task is to look for methane and other trace gases that could hint at biological or geological activity.

The car-sized probe was launched in 2016, and after a series of aerobraking maneuvers, it reached its final 250-mile-high orbit around Mars this month. Its spectrometers began “sniffing” atmospheric molecules just last weekend.

May 26th, 2017

Schiaparelli landing investigation completed

Artist impression of the Schiaparelli module with parachute deployed. Copyright ESA/ATG medialab

Artist impression of the Schiaparelli module with parachute deployed. Copyright ESA/ATG medialab

The inquiry into the crash-landing of the ExoMars Schiaparelli module has concluded that conflicting information in the onboard computer caused the descent sequence to end prematurely.

The Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing demonstrator module separated from its mothership, the Trace Gas Orbiter, as planned on 16 October last year, and coasted towards Mars for three days.

Much of the six-minute descent on 19 October went as expected: the module entered the atmosphere correctly, with the heatshield protecting it at supersonic speeds. Sensors on the front and back shields collected useful scientific and engineering data on the atmosphere and heatshield.

December 20th, 2016

Skimming an Alien Atmosphere

Artist’s impression of the ExoMars 2016 Trace Gas Orbiter at Mars.

Artist’s impression of the ExoMars 2016 Trace Gas Orbiter at Mars.

After the smooth arrival of ESA’s latest Mars orbiter, mission controllers are now preparing it for the ultimate challenge: dipping into the Red Planet’s atmosphere to reach its final orbit.

The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter is on a multiyear mission to understand the tiny amounts of methane and other gases in Mars’ atmosphere that could be evidence for possible biological or geological activity.

Following its long journey from Earth, the orbiter fired its main engine on 19 October to brake sufficiently for capture by the planet’s gravity.

It entered a highly elliptical orbit where its altitude varies between about 250 km and 98 000 km, with each circuit taking about four Earth days.

Ultimately, however, the science goals and its role as a data relay for surface rovers mean the craft must lower itself into a near-circular orbit at just 400 km altitude, with each orbit taking about two hours.

December 2nd, 2016

Europe presses ahead with Mars rover

Europe will push ahead with its plan to put a UK-assembled robotic rover on the surface of Mars in 2021.

Research ministers meeting in Lucerne, Switzerland, have agreed to stump up the outstanding €436m euros needed to take the project through to completion.

The mission is late and is costing far more than originally envisaged, prompting fears that European Space Agency member states might abandon it.

But the ministers have emphatically reaffirmed their commitment to it.

They have also said that European participation in the International Space Station (ISS) should run until at least 2024, bringing Esa into line with its partners on the orbiting laboratory – the US, Russia, Japan and Canada.

This will open new opportunities for European astronauts to visit the station, and it was announced here that Italian Luca Parmitano has been proposed to take up a tour in 2019.

The Ministerial Council was convened to set the policies, programmes and funding for ESA over the next three to five years.

November 29th, 2016

Here Are Our First Exciting Glimpses of Mars From Europe’s New Orbiter

ExoMars created its first 3D image of Martian topography from two stereo images captured by the Trace Gas Orbiter. Image: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE

ExoMars created its first 3D image of Martian topography from two stereo images captured by the Trace Gas Orbiter. Image: ESA/Roscosmos/ExoMars/CaSSIS/UniBE

In case Schiaparelli’s crash-landing left you thinking the European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission was a bust, rest assured it wasn’t. The mission’s scientific workhorse—its Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO)—is performing beautifully, as evidenced by the first images and splashes of data ESA has now received back from the Red Planet.

In keeping with ExoMars’ goal of discovering signs of life, the TGO’s agenda is to produce a detailed inventory of rare gases in Mars’ lower atmosphere. These include water vapor, nitrogen dioxide, acetylene, and most importantly, methane, which is broken apart by sunlight. If methane is present in Martian air, something—either a biological or geological process—is resupplying it.

The TGO is also equipped with state-of-the-art imaging equipment. If it does sniff something interesting, ESA will take detailed photos of the corresponding spot on the surface, so that a future rover can pay a visit.

October 27th, 2016

Closer Look at Schiaparelli Impact Site on Mars

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

This Oct. 25, 2016, image shows the area where the European Space Agency’s Schiaparelli test lander reached the surface of Mars, with magnified insets of three sites where components of the spacecraft hit the ground. It is the first view of the site from the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter taken after the Oct. 19, 2016, landing event.

The Schiaparelli test lander was one component of ESA’s ExoMars 2016 project, which placed the Trace Gas Orbiter into orbit around Mars on the same arrival date.

This HiRISE observation adds information to what was learned from observation of the same area on Oct. 20 by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Context Camera (CTX). Of these two cameras, CTX covers more area and HiRISE shows more detail. A portion of the HiRISE field of view also provides color information. The impact scene was not within that portion for the Oct. 25 observation, but an observation with different pointing to add color and stereo information is planned.

This Oct. 25 observation shows three locations where hardware reached the ground, all within about 0.9 mile (1.5 kilometer) of each other, as expected. The annotated version includes insets with six-fold enlargement of each of those three areas. Brightness is adjusted separately for each inset to best show the details of that part of the scene. North is about 7 degrees counterclockwise from straight up. The scale bars are in meters.