Mars Rover 'Curiosity' Blasts Off With University Of Guelph Technology On Board
Will The Red Planet Support Microbial Life?
by Cambridge Now! Local News
Nov 25, 2011
MARS Rover Curiosity
University Of Guelph Research Heading For The Red Planet
When Mars rises in the near future, U of G assisted technology will be roaming around its surface.
A team of University of Guelph scientists and students will watch their work blast off into space this week, headed for Mars.
Physics professor Ralf Gellert and students Nick Boyd, Scott van Bommel and Glynis Perrett will head this week to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida for NASA’s launch of its international Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission aboard the Mars rover Curiosity.
Iain Campbell, University professor emeritus in the Department of Physics, will discuss the U of G-designed technology that will be aboard the Mars Science Laboratory on Canada AM and CBC Newsnet Friday. He will be live on Canada AM at 7:15 a.m. and on CBC News Now at 7:45 a.m.
Launch is scheduled to occur this Saturday or as late as Dec. 18. The U of G team will also attend meetings all week to prepare for operation of the MSL after it lands on Mars. Mission scientists aim to learn whether the Martian environment could support microbial life.
The Guelph team helped to develop and fine-tune Canada’s contribution to the MSL mission: the new alpha particle X-ray spectrometer (APXS). Attached to the rover’s arm, the device – about the size of a pop can -- uses X-rays to examine the chemistry of rocks and soil.
“The APXS will be one of the many important instruments on this new mission,” said Gellert, principal investigator for an international group of scientists.
During the mission, the Guelph team will support the APXS operations and send instructions for operating the device on the rover. The team will work in a specially equipped room in the MacNaughton Building.
“We’ll run the day-to-day operations and analysis from our centre, and have a direct impact on the rover’s operation,” Gellert said.
“That means our students are sitting in the front row and having very responsible roles in the overall MSL team that is made up of experts from NASA and elsewhere. It’s very exciting for them.”
Boyd, a Guelph physics grad and now a research associate in the department, has helped to ready the APXS lab. He is now finishing a master’s degree in the School of Engineering.
Van Bommel, a master’s student, is analyzing data from an APXS instrument on earlier Mars rovers.
Perrett, who completed a BSc in physics, is a PhD student in environmental science, who helped calibrate the APXS. Working with professors Iain Campbell and Susan Glasauer, she will use spectrometer data to study how Martian rocks have formed and changed.
Also involved is Mike Curry, major projects manager in the physics department and a former aerospace scientist who has worked on instrumentation systems for the International Space Station.
The journey to Mars will take about nine months. Curiosity will roam the red planet for one Mars year — 23 Earth months.
The minivan-sized rover will be the largest and most sophisticated piece of equipment ever to land on Mars. About twice as long and three times as heavy as previous rovers, it can roll over thigh-high obstacles and travel about the length of two football fields in a day.
The new mission will investigate a new promising landing site, Gale Crater, that shows evidence for clays and sulfate deposits from orbit. Curiosity will explore this region in a similar way as NASA’s twin Mars
Exploration Rovers (MER), which landed on the red planet in 2004.
One of those rovers, Opportunity, continues to send information back to Earth. Gellert is the lead scientist for the earlier APXS instruments on MER.
In 2007, Campbell and physics professor Joanne O’Meara reported results from MER data detecting the first “on-the-spot” evidence of significant amounts of bound water still existing on Mars.
“MSL picks up where MER had to pass,” Gellert said. “MER found many spots that showed clues for possible habitable conditions, but it did not have the analytical instruments that investigate these samples further.”
He added that the APXS itself cannot tell if Mars was habitable. “No single instrument can do this alone. What the APXS does is tell the scientists if the rock was possibly altered in the past, or if it’s a piece of pristine solidified lava and if it is a promising target for a closer look.”
About The Mars Rover
Curiosity: The Next Mars Rover
This artist concept above features NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or present ability to sustain microbial life. Curiosity is being tested in preparation for launch in the fall of 2011. In this picture, the rover examines a rock on Mars with a set of tools at the end of the rover’s arm, which extends about 2 meters (7 feet). Two instruments on the arm can study rocks up close. Also, a drill can collect sample material from inside of rocks and a scoop can pick up samples of soil. The arm can sieve the samples and deliver fine powder to instruments inside the rover for thorough analysis.
The mast, or rover’s “head,” rises to about 2.1 meters (6.9 feet) above ground level, about as tall as a basketball player. This mast supports two remote-sensing instruments: the Mast Camera, or “eyes,” for stereo color viewing of surrounding terrain and material collected by the arm; and, the ChemCam instrument, which is a laser that vaporizes material from rocks up to about 9 meters (30 feet) away and determines what elements the rocks are made of.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.
For More really cool information about Curiosity Click Here and on the links below: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/ .