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Mars mission concept teams receive funding go-ahead

Longueuil, QC – As part of an international effort to send a manned mission to Mars, Canadian Space Agency recently announced an opportunity to develop mission concepts. The concepts are intended to define the role Canada might play and the scope of initiatives that may be undertaken in support of groundbreaking science. Of 12 concepts submitted, five have been chosen to receive funding of up to $250,000 to develop the concept of a scientific mission to Mars, including its moons.

Factors to be considered in a Mars mission include space technology advances, scientific needs and objectives, how to deal with distance, communications delays, and landing through the thin Martian atmosphere. All these must converge into a useful, workable mission concept.

The five projects are:

(1) A radar satellite to study the geology of Mars:
MDA of Richmond, British Columbia, will lead a team developing the concept of a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite that could be used, much like Canada’s RADARSAT-1 orbiting the Earth, to collect geological data of Mars. Subsequent missions to Mars could make use of the SAR data to determine, for example, the best landing sites, the best drilling sites and potential sources of water for future human exploration of the Red Planet.

(2) A rover to search for water erosion and subsurface water that uses a retractable sky camera to see around obstacles:
MPB Communications of Montreal will lead a team to develop the concept of a Mars landed rover that will search for signs of water erosion and subsurface water sites, and possibly, find evidence of past or present life. The mission would use an innovative small rover equipped with a self-elevating, retractable sky camera. When deployed at an altitude of 5-10m, the sky cam would provide a high-resolution view of the rover and surrounding terrain and provide critical navigation assistance for the rover to manoeuvre around obstacles. (Mission name: Inukshuk Canadian Mission to Mars).

(3) An orbiter to study the composition and climate of the Martian atmosphere:
A Canadian team led by Dalhousie University in Halifax will develop the concept of a detailed study of the composition and climate of the Martian atmosphere. Based on a suite of chemical, physical, and meteorological experiments aboard a Mars orbiter, this type of atmospheric research can reveal important aspects of the history, current state, and future of the planet. (Mission acronym: MC3M).

(4) A nanosatellite mission to map Mars’ remnant magnetic field in the south:
The University of Toronto is leading a team to develop the concept of a low-cost nanosatellite, that is, a very small satellite that weighs between 1-10kg, to monitor the remnant magnetic field in the southern highlands of Mars. The probe would carry a magnetometer and fly at an altitude of 80-100km to gather data from which scientists will draft high accuracy magnetic maps. Ultimately, information captured by this nanosatellite could help scientists explain mysteries associated with the evolution and early tectonics of Mars. (Mission acronym: MOMENT for Magnetic Observations of Mars Enabled by Nanosatellite Technology).

(5) A mission to learn more about the origin, composition, and structure of Phobos:
Optech of Toronto will lead a team to develop a mission concept to explore Phobos, one of Mars’ two moons. Phobos and Deimos are still largely unexplored despite many unanswered questions about their origin, composition, and structure. There is great potential in a mission of this type, given that it is much less expensive and complex to reach the moon than to explore the surface of Mars. (Mission acronym: PRIME for Phobos Reconnaissance and International Mars Exploration).