From beginning of March till end of August, a Mars Expo is organized in the Euro Space Center by the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy, which played an important role in Mars research activities. Looking back to past missions and research is one way, but the eyes are facing the future where an exciting mission is about to start. The ExoMars 2016 mission, a joint endeavor between ESA and Roscosmos, will depart on March 14th 2016 to the Red Plate, carrying Belgian technology to perform pioneering science: the NOMAD spectrometer. NOMAD is a 3-channel spectrometer suite to conduct a spectroscopic survey of Mars’ atmosphere in the UV, visible and IR spectral ranges, in search for traces of life. The expo was officially opened on March 10th.
Mars research activities
Ever since time immemorial, people have paid much attention to planet Mars. Astrologers of ancient civilizations were fascinated by the planet’s red colour. In various mythologies, Mars symbolized fire and war. Space exploration in the 1960s lead to a major breakthrough in our knowledge of Mars.
The Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB) was formerly involved in several missions, whether successful or less successful, such as Kepler, Phobos, Mars 96, ISO, Mars Express and observation campaigns from the Caucasus. BIRA-IASB is currently engaged in Exomars 2016.
BIRA-IASB scientists have thus played an important role in the study of our neighbouring planet. All this research will be presented during the Mars Expo.
Also OIP Sensor Systems has played its role in the Mars Exploration. OIP delivered a monitoring camera (VMC – Visual Monitoring Camera) for Mars-Express. Its goal was to monitor ESA’s Beagle lander separation and its early descent phase to the Martian surface. Unfortunately, the contact with the lander was lost, but the pictures taken by the VMC demonstrated that the Beagle descended according to the correct trajectory. Years later, the Beagle was discovered on the Martian surface in the predicted region. The small camera was given a second life as it was turned into the Mars Webcam, producing nice images of the Red Planet that our used for scientific and educational purposes (more info: http://blogs.esa.int/vmc/)
In Search of Traces of life on Mars with NOMAD onboard Exomars 2016
Establishing if life ever existed on Mars is one of the outstanding scientific questions of our time. To address this important goal, the European Space Agency (ESA) has established the ExoMars programme to investigate the Martian environment and to demonstrate new technologies paving the way for a future Mars sample return mission in the 2020’s. Exomars is a joint endeavor between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) to the Red planet.
NOMAD (Nadir and Occultation for MArs Discovery), part of the TGO, is a 3-channel spectrometer suite to conduct a spectroscopic survey of Mars’ atmosphere in the UV, visible and IR spectral ranges. The spectrometer covers the infrared (2.2-4.3 μm) and the ultraviolet-visible (0.2-0.65 μm) spectral regions.
NOMAD offers an integrated instrument combination of a flight-proven concept (SO/LNO are based on SOIR on Venus Express), and innovations based on existing and proven instrumentation, that will provide mapping and vertical profile information at high spatio-temporal resolution.
How does light turns into science? The working principle of the NOMAD spectrometer will be explained using several models. The light will guide you through Belgian Technology.
NOMAD was built by an international consortium led by IASB-BIRA as Principle Investigator and OIP Sensor Systems as Industrial Prime. Lambda-X was subcontractor.
Count-down to launch …
In the cleanroom facilities at the Baikonur Cosmodrome (Kazakhstan), the ExoMars Spacecrafts are being prepared for launch. The launch of the Exomars2016 is foreseen on March 14th 2016. 7 months later, ExoMars hopefully arrives at Mars in October 2016. Science operations are planned only in 2017 …