Western students lead Red Planet mission

By Communications Staff
August 16, 2014

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In partnership with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Western students are leading a simulated Mars Rover mission, boldly training the next-generation of space scientists and engineers through an integrated learning experience.

For the next two weeks, the Western-led team, which also includes students from Queen’s and York universities, is remotely operating the Mars Exploration Science Rover (MESR) on a Martian analogue (substitute) terrain located in Saint-Hubert, Quebec, at the John H. Chapman Space Centre.

The Mars Rover is a six-wheeled automated vehicle with a robotic arm equipped with a microscope and mini-corer to drill into rocks, take samples and perform analysis of rocks using its high definition microscope instrument. For chemical and mineralogical analysis the rover is also equipped with X-ray fluorescence and Raman spectrometers, as well as a Lidar for producing 3D maps of the terrain. As part of the collaboration, the team will share its data and lessons learned with CSA to better inform future exploration projects.

Utilizing the suite of instruments on the Rover, the team is searching for scientifically significant rocks and soil. A remote group, working at CSA, has a limited amount of time to determine how to select the best samples for science, as would be the case for a real mission to return samples from Mars to Earth.

A Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission remains one of the highest priorities of the international planetary exploration community. Returning a Martian sample to Earth would allow scientists to perform far more detailed analyses in terrestrial laboratories than could be performed robotically on the surface of Mars and could potentially reveal important insight into Martian climate, geology, habitability, and perhaps even life detection.

The Mission Control team will travel to Saint-Hubert, Quebec, to join the rover team for a mission debrief at the CSA on Monday, Aug 25.

This CREATE (Collaborative Research and Training Experience) program, titled  Technologies and Techniques for Earth and Space Exploration, is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and led by Gordon Osinski, an Earth Sciences professor in Western’s Faculty of Science and associate director of Western’s Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX).


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