Space funding to develop Aberdeen Martian chamber in preparation for Mars mission

Professor Javier Martin-Torres (University of Aberdeen Planetary Sciences Group)

SPACE scientists at the University of Aberdeen have been awarded funding to further develop their pioneering technology to evaluate the habitability of Mars.

The Planetary Sciences Group has been awarded £320,000 by the UK Space Agency to support the implementation of HABIT (Habitability: Brine, Irradiation and Temperature) – an instrument developed by the researchers to measure key conditions on the planet.

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It will be included on a lander expected to touch down on the surface of Mars around 2028-30 and led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), which is embarking on a comprehensive long-term Mars exploration programme.

In addition to measuring conditions, HABIT will be used in an attempt to produce liquid water on Mars for the first time, based on the theory that there are unique salts on the planet surface which absorb water from the atmosphere and produce liquid water (in the form of brines) at night when the temperature is lowest.

The new funding will enable University space scientists to create a unique Martian chamber – a box about the size of a refrigerator that re-creates the temperatures, pressures, and atmosphere of the Martian surface, essentially creating a Mars environment on Earth.

The chamber will be used for the calibration of HABIT so that it can be ready to perform its exploration of Mars’ water cycle, chemistry, and habitability.

Professor Javier Martin-Torres, who leads the University of Aberdeen Planetary Sciences Group, said: “HABIT is designed to monitor various environmental conditions crucial for understanding the presence of liquid brine and supporting (bio)chemical reactions on Mars. It is a critical component for the mission as HABIT will work with other instruments onboard the lander to enhance the understanding of Mars’ habitability.

“Our technology will make an important contribution in answering fundamental questions not only in Mars science and astrobiology but could also pave the way for future human exploration. We are delighted to be one of only seven universities in the UK – and the only one in Scotland – to be part of this funding award which will keep the country in the forefront of Mars research and astrobiology.”

Professor Martin-Torres says the development of the Martian chamber will help to support the development of the next generation of space scientists.

“We will be able to create a chamber at the University of Aberdeen, where can simulate the environment of Mars. In addition to the calibration of HABIT, this milestone facility will enable us to train students and researchers in this unique area of space exploration. It will also facilitate future international collaborations with both research and industry allowing us to test new instrumentation, materials, and components and to build greater understanding of Martian pressure conditions including a liquid water cycle and UV radiation exposure.”

Dr Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, said: “The University of Aberdeen’s work with JAXA on environment monitoring technology for Martian rovers demonstrates how UK science can make crucial contributions to ground-breaking global missions that will deepen our understanding of our neighbouring planets.

“Our funding will help catalyse international investment into the UK space sector and highlights the value we place on sharing knowledge and expertise with our counterparts overseas to push the boundaries of space exploration.”

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