An engineering model of the Mars Rover, called Bridget, developed by Astrium in the UK, was on display at the University today- Friday June 4- providing invited schoolchildren as well as staff and students with an exciting glimpse into the shape of things to come.
The event coincides with celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of space research at the University of Leicester.
Scientists from the University of Leicester are involved in five instruments on board the ExoMars mission, including building the hardware for three of the instruments on board the craft. The ExoMars mission is one of the key missions under the remit of the newly formed UK Space Agency.
ExoMars (Exobiology on Mars) is a European-led robotic mission to Mars, developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA. It is part of ESA's Aurora programme for robotic exploration of the Solar System and its aim is to further characterise the chemical, geological and possible biological environment on Mars in preparation for robotic missions and then human exploration. Data from the mission will also provide invaluable input for broader studies of exobiology - the search for life on other planets.
The mission to Mars also has enormous Earth-bound applications with spin-offs in collaboration with industry bringing environmental benefits as well as technologies that can be applied in the fields of health and crime detection.
Professor Sims said: "ExoMars is a key mission in exploration of the planet Mars. It will attempt to gather samples from a depth 1-2m below the surface where they are protected from radiation and oxidants thought to exist on the surface – both of which would destroy/heavily degrade complex organic compounds.
"The mission gives the University, and the Space Research Centre(SRC) team in particular, the opportunity to explore the chemistry and mineralogy of Mars as well as look at the possibility of life on Mars in the distant past, or even today, and at the same time create world-class science. Because of its innovative work in space instrumentation, which builds upon the SRC expertise in imaging detectors and its interdisciplinary work on sensor systems, the University is providing several instruments.
"This is a truly exciting opportunity to explore Mars and look for extra-terrestrial life and on Friday 4 June, we are announcing the University of Leicester teams preparing for the ExoMars Flight Model Build programme."
Following construction of prototypes and confirmation of the mission by ESA, University of Leicester teams will start to gear up for the design and build of the various test models of the instruments and the build of the flight instruments due to be delivered in 2014.Both local industry in the East Midlands and key UK companies will be involved in the build of these instruments.
Professor Sims added: "The University of Leicester and the UK has a major international role in this key mission. The work associated with the ExoMars mission will be a major part of the University's Space Research Centre programme until launch of the mission in 2018 and after that, with operations and 'new science' on the surface of Mars from 2019.
"For the last 50 years at the University of Leicester, we have been exploring the Universe via astronomy; since 1993 the Earth and since 1995 the planets and Mars in particular. In 2018 the University will contribute instruments to the ExoMars mission that will attempt to answer the question of past or present life on Mars."
Professor Sims added that the University of Leicester's space research fed directly into postgraduate research as well as impacting on undergraduate education and on outreach programmes in schools, colleges and the wider community. The pioneering work of the University in Physics and Astronomy also led to the creation of the National Space Centre in Leicester.
Professor Sims said: "Given its major roles in the Mercury Bepi-Colombo mission and ExoMars Leicester is becoming known as one of the European leaders in planetary instrumentation. We now have thriving postgraduate research in planetary science and particularly Mars. There is an indirect link to undergraduate courses e.g. Space and Planetary Instrumentation, Life in the Universe."
The ExoMars instruments have been funded to date by the Science and Technology Facilities Council; funding of the flight instruments will be via the UK Space Agency.
Note to newsdesk: For more information, please contact
University of Leicester press office: 0116 252 2415; email email@example.com
What is ExoMars?
ExoMars is the first mission to attempt to obtain samples at a depth of 1-2m below the surface of Mars where they are protected from radiation and oxidants thought to exist on the surface, and both of which would destroy/heavily degrade complex organic compounds
You can find out more on the ESA website: http://esa-mm.esa.int/SPECIALS/Aurora/SEM1NVZKQAD_0.html
UK Space Agency Website: http://www.ukspaceagency.bis.gov.uk/Discovering-Space/Getting-into-space/8105.aspx
STFC Aurora Home page is http://www.stfc.ac.uk/SciProg/Aurora/AuroraHome.aspx
Details of mission are on http://www.stfc.ac.uk/SciProg/Aurora/ExoMars/mission/missionHome.aspx
Links to various instruments are on http://www.stfc.ac.uk/SciProg/Aurora/ExoMars/spin/spin1.aspx
Mission Instrument Timeline:
2011 Instrument Software Simulators
2013 Qualification Model instruments (to fully qualify instruments for design and survival en route to, and on, Mars)
2014 Flight Model Instruments (the actual instruments that will go to Mars)
2019 Landing and Science Results
University of Leicester involvement in ExoMars:
The University of Leicester is involved in constructing hardware for three instruments on ExoMars:
1. The Life Marker Chip (LMC): Professor Mark Sims, from the University of Leicester, is Principal Investigator leading the international team. The aim of the instrument is to look for organic molecules that might be associated with life, or meteoritic infall of organics onto the surface.
2. X-ray Diffraction Instrument (XRD): Dr Richard Ambrosi from the University of Leicester is leading the team to build the X-ray CCD based focal plane of this instrument in conjunction with Ian Hutchinson. The instrument is led by Italy and looks at mineralogy and elemental composition of the regolith (soil) and rocks.
3. Raman: Dr Ian Hutchinson of the University of Leicester is leading a team to build the optical CCD-based focal plane of this instrument. The instrument as a whole is led by Spain. Its aim is to look at mineralogy and possibly detect organics (dependent on their concentration) of the regolith (soil) and rocks.
In addition, the University of Leicester has science involvement in two other ExoMars instruments (Pancam and CLUPI) and the University scientists are bidding for a science role in instruments being flown on the 2016 Orbiter mission which will examine the planet from orbit.
SPIN-OFFS FROM SPACE:
Aurora research has resulted in patents, commercial applications and unforeseen benefits. Listed below are just a few examples of the programme's spin-outs in fields ranging from human mobility to environmental resources.
Business and industry involvement with instruments being developed with Leicester scientists:
Magna Parva. e2V CCDs
Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. Fibre optic image relay system for LMC.
QinetiQ radiation testing of components for LMC
Scisys software consultancy for LMC
Bridget: Astrium's Mars Rover Engineering Development Model
Bridget, Astrium's Mars Rover Engineering Development Model was 'created' by Astrium in the UK to investigate a number of areas where engineering solutions were required for Europe's ExoMars mission to Mars in 2018. She has been used extensively for the development and testing of the locomotion, suspension and steering systems and was then reconfigured to incorporate flight performance stereo cameras and an autonomous navigation system. She has handed over most of the development work and testing to her 'sons' or successors, Bruno and Bradley, but she still helps out when the payload or workload is too heavy for them!
Through the development work carried out on Bridget, the ExoMars rover will be far more autonomous than current rovers, able to move faster and select its own route to the next point of interest, making best use of the terrain. This means that, once given the next 'target', the rover can make its own way there, with no further control commands. This feature is particularly useful when signals or commands from Earth can, in the worst case, take up to 20 minutes to get to Mars.
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