PRESS RELEASE: 15th Nov 2016 – Immediate
Joint UK/Australia Project to develop Mars Nano-Lander system – MEDIAN
The possibility of microbial life on Mars has long been a topic of controversy amongst scientists In the last decade, the presence of Methane in a set of regions known as “hotspots” dotted around various segments of the Martian surface has been detected by the Canada, France, Hawaii Telescope and the European Space Agency Mars Express orbiter.
Though these findings were considered highly controversial, until the more recent detection in-situ from surface readings, by the NASA Mars Curiosity rover. This recent proof of Methane emanating from Mars has made the need to map these hotspots in more detail and potentially find if the source is biological or not, all the more urgent.
The recent landing failure of the European Space Agency’s test mission Schiaparelli, has put in to political question a follow on mission in 2020 of the ESA EXOMars rover. This mission, has a site selection already decided, which does not correlate with the known “hotspot” regions. Therefore it is felt that a future NASA or even privately funded mission, such as those planned by SpaceX may be the best hope for a ground based accurate in-situ detection and possible imaging or drilling and core sampling, to determine the answer to, what could be humankind’s greatest question “Does life exist elsewhere in our solar system?” Bring on MEDIAN – Methane Detection by In-Situ Analysis with NanoLanders
In a joint project being developed by an undergraduate student at the University of Central Lancashire and the Australian project team, Thunderstruck Aerospace, the second phase of an audacious Mars small scale landing support system is now progressing. Phase one was a proof of concept that the detection of trace gases on the surface was possible.
Experiments conducted on an OEWF and RAS funded project in 2013 in the Moroccan desert, showed the viability of a series of small scale landers, and their capability to assist in the direction of a larger scale rover to a promising hotspot.
The aim of this joint Anglo/Australian team is to create a working prototype of the actual Mars nano-landing system, with drop tests and research being conducted in the Australian outback by the Thunderstruck team using the models developed by the University of Central Lancashire in the United Kingdom.
The lander, measuring 2 metres in size, and weighing under 10kg, will be capable of carrying out in-situ analysis on the Martian surface, to determine the sites at which methane exists in the greatest quantities, at sub metre resolution level, and determine the quantity of methane being emitted at each of a number of sites in parts per billion/million.
The aim of this is to then, using up to ten of these landers, fitted in to the heatshield of the main spacecraft, and deployed after entry interface in to the Martian atmosphere, to drop to the surface as high velocity penetrators, and once in-situ, “guide” a larger rover to the highest concentration point, thus dramatically cutting the time spent by the rover searching, before reaching the optimal hotspot region.
The project, initially the concept of a British born astronomer, has seen collaborations with UK research students and coding development by research scientists, now working at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Phase two, aiming to start drop testing in Q1 2017, will take the project through to a stage where a potential landing in the mid-2020s would be possible.
Nick Howes, UK Astronomer and European Director of Aerolite Meteorites who came up with the idea for MEDIAN, quotes “Robert Brand, the head of Australia’s ThunderStruck Aerospace will be working as the architect, alongside the University of Central Lancashire in the UK, of the overall approach, deployment, landing, networking, mapping and communications for the methane detection system”
“With a background in communications, dating back to work on the historic Apollo 11 landings, through to the European Space Agencies “Giotto” spacecraft, Robert’s work will be vital to the overall success of this project” says Howes
Media contact Australia – Robert Brand: firstname.lastname@example.org
Media contact UK – Nick Howes Email: Howesnickhowes@aol.com
In addition to the Press Release, please find the phase 2 proposal and references.
The possibility of microbial life on Mars has long since been a topic of controversy amongst scientists (Zahnle, K, Freedman, R, & Catling, D 2011). The recent confirmation of the presence of Methane in a set of regions known as “hotspots” dotted around various segments of the Martian surface, by the Canada France Hawaii Telescope (Hand, E 2008) and the European Space Agency Mars Express orbiter (Formisano, V.et.al 2004), were considered highly controversial, until the more recent detection in-situ from surface readings, by the NASA Mars Curiosity rover (Webster, C, et.al 2015). This recent detection has made the need to map these hotspots in more detail and potentially find if the source is biological or not, all the more urgent.
The recent landing failure of the European Space Agency’s test mission Schiaparelli, has put in to question the viability of the follow on mission in 2020 of the ESA EXOMars rover. This also, has a site selection in place, which does not correlate with the known “hotspot” regions. Therefore, it is felt that a future NASA mission may be the best hope for a ground based accurate in-situ detection and possible imaging or drilling and core sampling, to determine the answer to, what could be humankind’s greatest question “Does life exist elsewhere in our solar system?”
The aim of this project is to create a working prototype of a Mars nano-lander capable of carrying out in-situ analysis on the Martian surface, to determine the sites at which methane exists in the greatest quantities, at sub metre resolution level, and determine the quantity of methane being emitted at each of a number of sites in parts per billion/million. The aim of this is to then “guide” a larger rover to the highest concentration point, thus dramatically cutting the time spent by the rover searching before reaching the optimal hotspot region.
The current best estimate from orbital data (Geminale, A., Formisano, V. and Sindoni, G., 2011) gives the quantity in parts per billion, hence a refined system on the surface, we propose, could improve this value by an order of magnitude.
The methane detection mechanism proposed as the primary science package of the MEDIAN system, has been initially ground tested in the Moroccan desert as part of the RAS and OEWF supported and funded project MEDIAN (Methane Detection by In-situ Analysis with Nano-landers) (oewf.org/en/portfolio/morocco-mars-2013) and is based on a multi part project proposal set forward by Howes.N (FRAS) et.al to develop a suitable landing system to deploy a science package, comprising of methane sensors, wind measurement instruments, transmitters and ground analysis systems on the Martian surface.
The aim of this project is to complete the research, development and building of a working prototype landing system. This will entail multiple disciplines in physics and engineering, including aerodynamic and fluid dynamic modelling, CAD based development, materials science and real world physical design and testing. The project also has the support of the Australian “Project Thunderstruck” research team for both drop testing in the Australian desert and scientific instrument support.
The key components of a planned mid 2020s mission to Mars, where the MEDIAN landers will be deployed will be as follows:
To determine entry, descent and landing procedures required to survive a high impact, high velocity penetrator type descent in the Martian Atmosphere.
- Analysis of Mars atmospherics and the impact of this on the planned landing ellipse.
- Design and materials science analysis of the lander shell, combined with real world and computational testing.
- Analysis of the optimal drop height, and deployment mechanism to ensure a safe landing on the Martian surface.
The goal is that the modelling will ensure the best possible prediction of the landing site ellipse and hence give the rover accurate data for traverse to a suitable site for further analysis. Phase 3 of this project is envisaged to be the development of a suitable transmission system to enable accurate guiding of the main rover to the nano-lander position. This phase is not within the scope of this project.
Extensive research based on published papers from NASA’s Viking, Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity, MSL Curiosity, Phoenix, Mars Polar Lander (and the associated DS2 small scale landers (Lorenz, R, Moersch, J, Stone, J, Morgan, A, & Smrekar, S 2000)) as well as the design and analysis of the ESA/UKSA Beagle 2 mission will help inform planning, design and development.
Each of the above utilised a variety of entry descent and landing mechanisms and optimisation of their data will assist in development of a fully functioning lander.
Other areas of research will be descent profile modelling and atmospheric modelling, OEWF MEDIAN Results from the Morocco ground testing the use and functionality of lunar penetrometers (GLXP ref) and studies of other proposed high velocity planetary mission impactors to make the best and most accurate test program possible for the lander.
To improve the amount of scientific research achieved per dollar spent on the mission, the landers will replace the counterweights in the heatshield (6 x 25kg Tungsten used for example on NASA’s MSL mission) and use a mechanism like that of the NanoRacks (nanoracks.com) which is currently used to deploy cube-sats from the International Space Station, as an already flight tested launch system.
Error analysis methods such as Monte-Carlo simulation will be incorporated into the project to analyse the risk from a variety of factors (e.g. atmospheric/wind/dust modelling) and reduce it accordingly.
Given the proposed size of the spacecraft, the nano-satellite research conducted on the ISS by JAXA, ROSCOSMOS, NASA and ESA will offer significant insight into the technology currently in operation, and lead the research into releasing the landers from the heatshield at a “suitable” height above the surface.
The height determination will be based on the impact velocity and materials used.
The University of Central Lancashire Campus will be the main site for carrying out the work, based in the C & T CM125 lab with the use of Wharf building also. Prototyping circuit boards for the payload will be carried out in the labs, along with assembly of the lander as a whole, while the modelling components will make use of the programs Ansys, MATLAB, and Solidworks.
In order to carry out drop testing, there will be collaboration with local companies and also international projects namely ‘Project Thunderstruck’ in Australia. By the time we reach physical drop testing of the lander, the aim is to utilise their current expertise in high altitude balloon flights, and also their team who have experience in spacecraft design, over the Australian desert, which is deemed to be a suitable analogue for the Martian surface for these purposes, and assess factors such as accelerometer use with impactors, and IMU/Gyroscope systems to determine offset positioning of the lander.
The final test phase will be to adding the methane sensors and science payload and ensuring it survives impact and functions. Lastly the landers will be tested in the place of counterweights within a prototype mock-up of a heatshield, ejected at high altitude again over Australia.
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