mars landscape curiosity
March 26, 2014

Vacuum Chamber Mimics Martian Environment

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Researchers have designed a simulation chamber that could be used to help prepare for missions to Mars.

A team from Centro de Astrobiología, INTA-CSIC, and Instituto de Ciencias de Materials de Madrid created “MARTE” to test out new electromechanical gear for potential Red Planet missions. The vacuum chamber is able to mimic the conditions on Mars, including the planet’s Martian dust.

Scientists believe Mars may have once, or still does, possess conditions capable of supporting life, making it a continued primary candidate for future missions.

"Mars is a good place to learn about planets similar to ours and, as such, is the target of many NASA and European Space Agency missions," Jose Angel Martín-Gago, a research professor at the Instituto de Ciencias de Materials de Madrid, said in a statement. "Our group is primarily involved in the Mars Science Laboratory mission to construct a meteorological station intended for future use on a rover to further explore Mars' surface."

The researchers wrote in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments about their state-of-the-art vacuum chamber and how it will be able to help researchers test out their future missions. MARTE will be critical in helping scientists test out newly developed sensors and instruments capable of detecting the planet’s atmospheric and surface characteristics.

MARTE will be able to replicate the physical conditions on Mars, including temperatures, pressure, gas composition and radiation. Vacuum chambers were used to help scientists test out the meteorological sensors used on NASA’s Curiosity rover, but MARTE will be able to help take things a step further by replicating other challenges like Martian dust.

"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," Jesus Sobrado, the scientist in charge of the machine's technical development, said in a statement.

He said vacuum chambers can answer many questions about Mars or other related planetary bodies, such as Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. These tools can be used to look at both scientific and technological points of view.

The researchers are also collaborating with NASA to test a new meteorological station associated with the Insight mission.

Image 2 (below): The simulation chamber, named MARTE, is designed to enable study of the behavior of instrumentation and samples of different types and sizes in pressure ranges up to 10-6 mbar controlling the gas composition, with temperature control of samples in the range of 108K to 423K. Credit: J. Martín-Gago/ICMM