Aurora - UK prepares for a return to Mars

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council [PPARC] has today announced an investment of £1.7 million in R&D to enable UK scientists and engineers to develop key instrumentation and technologies for the European Space Agency's [ESA] ExoMars mission. ExoMars, the first mission in ESA's Aurora programme of planetary exploration and slated for launch in 2011, will explore the Red Planet with a suite of sophisticated instruments and seek clues to the existence of past or present life.

ExoMars will explore the Martian surface with a mobile rover and a stationary science module.

ExoMars will:

  • search for traces of past and present life at, and near, the Martian surface
  • characterise Martian geochemistry and water distribution at various locations
  • increase knowledge of the Mars environment and geophysics
  • identify potential hazards before landing other robotic spacecraft, or – in the longer term – humans

PPARC's investment is focussed on instruments and technology in which the UK has a proven and recognised track record, building on the heritage from Beagle 2 technology and missions such as Mars Express and Huygens. The 9 funding awards will develop areas which the UK considers to be critical, enabling academia and industry to develop flight-ready technology in time for the ExoMars mission.

The awards are for:

  • the Rover to explore the surface
  • Life Marker Chip to search for organic materials
  • Panoramic Camera to map the planet in 3D
  • X-ray Diffractometer to study the geology of Mars
  • Microseismometer to search for Marsquakes
  • The Atmospheric Experiment Package to develop the wind sensor element
  • UV-VIS spectrometer to look at the radiation that reaches Mars
  • Entry, Descent and Landing systems technology to safely deliver the spacecraft to the surface
  • Fluid Inertial Simulation – to model parachute behaviour on Mars

More details on each of these and wider UK work is available in the accompanying information pack.

Professor Keith Mason, CEO of PPARC said "Mars Express has, and still is, delivering outstanding science from orbit around the Red Planet. It has revealed some amazing facts about Mars and even more amazing images – but we have unfinished business on the surface. To really understand the mysteries of Mars we need ground-truth data and ExoMars will deliver that with the rover and base station".

Mason added," The UK is already the second largest financial contributor to the Aurora programme in Europe – confirmation that we intend to be a major player. This latest PPARC funding will position our scientists and engineers to win leading roles in instruments and technology in the first mission, ExoMars".

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Notes for Editors

Previous news:
UK joins Aurora Preparatory phase (Sept 2004) http://www.pparc.ac.uk/Nw/aurora1.asp
Ministerial announcement (Dec 2005) http://www.pparc.ac.uk/Nw/marsreturn.asp

Images – see http://www.pparc.ac.uk/Nw/Aurora_decision.asp

Video – Beta tape showing locomotive testing of the rover prototype in Tenerife is available. Contact Julia Maddock for details.

Animation – an online animation is available at
http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Aurora/SEMBR89ATME_1.html#subhead1
Unfortunately we do not yet have this at broadcast quality.

Contacts

Peter Barratt
PPARC Press Office
Tel 01793 442025
Mobile 0787 9602899
Email peter.barratt@pparc.ac.uk

Julia Maddock
PPARC Press Office
Tel 01793 442094
Mobile 07901 514 975
Email: Julia.maddock@pparc.ac.uk

Franco Bonacina
ESA Spokesperson and Head of Media Relations Division
Tel: +33 1 5369 7713
Fax: + 33 1 5369 7690
franco.bonacinal@esa.int

The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC) is the UK's strategic science investment agency. It funds research, education and public understanding in four broad areas of science - particle physics, astronomy, cosmology and space science.

PPARC is government funded and provides research grants and studentships to scientists in British universities, gives researchers access to world-class facilities and funds the UK membership of international bodies such as the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, CERN, the European Space Agency and the European Southern Observatory. It also contributes money for the UK telescopes overseas on La Palma, Hawaii, Australia and in Chile, the UK Astronomy Technology Centre at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh and the MERLIN/VLBI National Facility.


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