A team of Spanish scientists from Centro de Astrobilología, INTA-CSIC, and Instituto de Ciencias de Materials de Madrid have created a state-of-the-art vacuum chamber than almost perfectly simulates conditions on the surface of Mars.
Dubbed “MARTE,” the $200,000 simulation chamber replicates the Red Planet’s pressure, temperature, atmospheric gas composition and radiation, and even the surface’s unique dust. While it’s not a perfect reproduction—MARTE cannot mimic Mars’ lower gravity, for example—it is more than sufficient for testing how instruments, sensors, and equipment will be perform in the planet’s environment.
“We’re simulating the effect of the Martian dust—one of the primary problems for planetary exploration—to gain a better understanding of how instruments behave when covered in dust,” the leader of the system’s technical development team, Jesus Sobrado, said in a statement.
The researchers are collaborating with NASA to develop meteorological instruments for future planetary rovers that will build on the success of Curiosity, the high-tech rover that is currently exploring the Martian surface. Vacuum chambers similar to MARTE were used to test some of Curiosity’s weather sensors prior to its launch in 2012.
Because scientists believe that Mars once—and possibly still—provided conditions capable of supporting life, it is a common subject of research. “Mars is a good place to learn about planets similar to our and, as such, is the target of many NASA and European Space Agency missions, said Jose Angel Martin-Gago, MARTE’s lead researcher and a research professor at Instituto de Ciencias de Matrials de Madrid.
The research team has also constructed vacuum chambers capable of mimicking the environments on other planets, Europa (one of Jupiter’s moons), and the open space between stars and planets. These vacuum chambers “can answer many questions about Mars or other related planetary bodies—both from scientific and technology points of view,” said Sobrado.
The team’s findings were published in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments on Tuesday, 24 March 2014.
- Vacuum Chamber Mimics Surface of Mars http://www.autoworldnews.com/articles/6746/20140326/mars-simulator-accurate-down-to-dust.htm
- Mars Simulation Chamber to Mimic Red Planet Conditions http://www.redorbit.com/news/space/1113104214/mars-vacuum-chamber-marte-032614/
- Mars on Earth: Vacuum Chambers Mimic the Red Planet http://uk.news.yahoo.com/mars-earth-vacuum-chambers-mimic-red-planet-191434783.html#COZ0LEI
- Mimicking Mars: A Vacuum Simulation Chamber for Testing Environmental Instrumentation for Mars Exploration http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/journal/rsi/85/3/10.1063/1.4868592?TRACKPRESS=BARDI