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News Code: 1036


Scientists create Mars on Earth simulation for human mission

The Mars Curiosity Rover is definitely not the last mission to Mars that Earth’s space agencies will undertake—plenty more will come. And product testing for those missions is well under way in Spain, where researchers from three institutions in Madrid are jointly subjecting models of space-flight hardware to an environment that is as close to the Red Planet’s as you’re going to find on Earth: their very own “Mars environmental simulation chamber.”

The researchers, who hail from the INTA-CSIC, Spain’s space agency; its affiliate research center Centro de Astrobiología; and the Instituto de Ciencias de Materials, are trying to develop new sensors and instruments that can analyze the planet’s atmosphere and surface characteristics. As they report in a newly published article in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments, they’ve constructed the simulation chamber to be an environment for testing the hardware models out in profoundly realistic Mars conditions.

The chamber’s interior is oxygen-free, and its floor has a spread of mockup Martian dust. Radiation waves bathe continuously over anything that enters it, while chamber settings keep the temperature, pressure, and gas composition at levels identical to what one would find on Mars.

The researchers said in a press statement that they hope to develop a workable “meteorological station” that could sit atop a future Mars rover. Using this simulation chamber, the researchers can find out for sure how well the gear that they are designing will hold up when combing through Martian dust and weathering the planet’s harsh temperature extremes and radiation.

This chamber isn’t the first of its kind. Engineers developing the Curiosity rover used a vacuum chamber to run the gears through Mars-like temperature and air conditions. The Spanish researchers’ installation of simulated Mars dust is an added touch, however.

This dust bears consideration, as it is about 50 times finer than Earth’s dust and is more prone to stick to objects due to its extreme dryness and radioactive charges. Machines that land on the surface could quickly become overly dust-clogged and shut down if their designers haven’t adequately tailored them to be dust-resistant.

They may get to put their hardware to the test in just a few more years. Jose Martín-Gago, a research professor at the Instituto de Ciencias de Materials de Madrid and one of the participating researchers, and several colleagues are collaborating with NASA to prepare a meteorological station for INSIGHT, a joint NASA-European Space Agency mission to send a robot to Mars in 2016 to study the planet’s deep subsurface interior. The researchers are also working on instruments for a second mission to reach Mars in 2020 and look further for signs of life.
Source: Shafaqna