All About Median
Joint UK/Australia Project to develop Mars Nano-Lander system – MEDIAN
The possibility of microbial life on Mars has long since been a topic of controversy amongst scientists In the last decade, the presence of Methane in a set of regions known as “hot spots” dotted around various segments of the Martian surface has been detected by the Canada France Hawaii Telescope and the European Space Agency Mars Express orbiter.
Though these findings were considered highly controversial, until the more recent detection in-situ from surface readings, by the NASA Mars Curiosity rover. This recent proof of Methane emanating from Mars has made the need to map these hot-spots in more detail and potentially find if the source is biological or not, all the more urgent.
The recent landing failure of the European Space Agency’s test mission Schiaparelli, has put in to political question a follow on mission in 2020 of the ESA EXOMars rover.
This mission, has a site selection already decided, which does not correlate with the known “hot spot” regions. Therefore it is felt that a future NASA or even privately funded mission, such as those planned by SpaceX may be the best hope for a ground based accurate in-situ detection and possible imaging or drilling and core sampling, to determine the answer to, what could be humankind’s greatest question
“Does life exist elsewhere in our solar system?”
Bring on MEDIAN – Methane Detection by In-Situ Analysis with NanoLanders
In a joint project being developed by an undergraduate student at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK and the Australian Project Thunderstruck team, the second phase of an audacious Mars small scale landing support system is now progressing.
Phase one was a proof of concept that the detection of trace gases on the surface was possible.
Median in Test in Morocco in 2013 (Image – OEWF)
Experiments conducted on an OEWF and RAS funded project in 2013 in the Moroccan desert, showed the viability of a series of small scale landers, and their capability to assist in the direction of a larger scale rover to a promising hotspot.
The aim of this joint Anglo/Australian team is to create a working prototype of the actual Mars nano-landing system, with drop tests and research being conducted in the Australian outback by the Thuderstruck team using the models developed by the University in the United Kingdom.
The lander, measuring only a few feet in size, and weighing under 10kg, will be capable of carrying out in-situ analysis on the Martian surface, to determine the sites at which methane exists in the greatest quantities, at sub metre resolution level, and determine the quantity of methane being emitted at each of a number of sites in parts per billion/million.
The aim of this is to then, using up to ten of these landers, fitted in to the heat shield of the main spacecraft, and deployed after entry interface in to the Martian atmosphere, to drop to the surface as high velocity penetrators, and once in situ, “guide” a larger rover to the highest concentration point, thus dramatically cutting the time spent by the rover searching, before reaching the optimal hot spot region.
The project, initially the concept of a British born astronomer, has seen collaborations with UK research students and coding development by research scientists, now working at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Phase two, aiming to start drop testing in Q1 2017, will take the project through to a stage where a potential landing in the mid-2020s would be possible.
Nick Howes, UK Astronomer and European Director of Aerolite Meteorites Europe, who came up with the idea for MEDIAN, quotes “Robert Brand, the head of Australia’s Project Thunderstruck will be working as the architect, alongside the University of Central Lancashire in the UK, of the overall approach, deployment, landing, networking, mapping and communications for the methane detection system”
“With a background in communications, dating back to work on the historic Apollo 11 landings, through to the European Space Agencies “Giotto” spacecraft, Robert’s work will be vital to the overall success of this project” quotes Nick