Ulster University awarded UK Space Agency funding to explore Mars Rover route

  • The UK Space Agency has awarded Ulster University researchers funding to assist in determining the optimal route for the ExoMars rover.

    The funding is part of a £375,000 award secured by the Environmental Sciences Research Institute at Ulster University.

    It will be used to help the European Space Agency investigate the effect of wind on the landing site for the ExoMars rover, a mission that will search for signs of past and present life on Mars and investigate how the water and geochemical environment varies.

    The ExoMars rover is named Rosalind Franklin and is set to land on Mars in March 2021.

    It has been fitted with a cutting-edge, high-definition camera called PanCam, which will be positioned on top of the rover’s tall mast and is fitted with sensors to scan the planet’s surface in search of minerals or water.

    ExoMars has the capability to drill down further than any other rover to date. Once it identifies an area of interest it will travel towards it at 1.2 miles per hour, drilling down into the surface to take a biopsy of the land. It will then store the land samples in a self-contained laboratory where it will be examined.

    The three-year project in partnership with The Open University, University of Aberystwyth and Ulster University aims to understand how the wind has shaped the Oxia Planum site on Mars where the rover will land in 2021.

    Using Ulster University’s state-of-the-art 3D computer modelling techniques, researchers will replicate winds that flow over the surface of Mars and the impact the surface terrain will have on ExoMars rover’s route.

    Ulster University lead researcher Professor Derek Jackson commented; “Using large scale and smaller scale atmospheric models we will look at how the land surface on Mars can force winds into certain directions and alter wind speeds. The changes to wind patterns observed will help shape the modern and ancient surface of the planet.

    “As loose sand deposits can be a navigational hazard to the rover during its traverse across the surface, our work will assist the European Space Agency in deciding the optimal route the Rover may take over the months and years after landing.”


    Source: Ulster University (c) photograph

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