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Thread: Martian 'divining rod' deploys its first boom

  1. #1 Martian 'divining rod' deploys its first boom 
    Forum Sophomore cleft's Avatar
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    A European Space Agency artist imagines how the unmanned Mars Express orbiter looks high above the planet. The probe arrived over the Red Planet on December 25, 2003. Looking down from the martian sky, it is searching for water, ice and chemicals buried under the planet surface.

    The first of three radar booms that will search for underground water on Mars has apparently deployed successfully aboard Europe's Mars Express spacecraft, despite fears that the boom would whip back and strike the craft. But the radar will not be functional until its twin deploys, an event currently scheduled for Sunday.

    On Wednesday, mission officials in Darmstadt, Germany, commanded the first of two 20-metre-long antennae on the MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) experiment to pop out of its storage box. It had been folded there since before the mission's launch in June 2003.

    The antenna will form a "T" consisting of the two long booms and a third, 7-metre-long antenna, and was originally scheduled to be deployed in April 2004. But European Space Agency (ESA) officials postponed the date over concerns the antennae could endanger the mission by hitting or getting snagged on the spacecraft during deployment.

    Now mission members confirm the first deployment appears to have gone without a hitch, with initial data suggesting the boom popped out as planned.

    Team members contacted by New Scientist say they are pleased with the apparent success but remain cautious. More tests of the spacecraft's behaviour will continue on Friday to confirm the boom did indeed straighten out as required. The radar will not be able to function until the second 20-metre boom is deployed.
    Waterlogged rocks

    The instrument works by sending out pulses of radio waves from the two longer booms and analysing the time delay and strength of the waves that return. The pulses last tens of microseconds and will bounce back just as quickly.

    Most will rebound from the surface, but some of the longer wavelength waves may penetrate the porous rocky soil. These would bounce back when they encounter a transition between two materials with different electrical properties - perhaps between dry and waterlogged rocks.

    The 7-metre boom, scheduled to be deployed last, is not required for the experiment to take data. But it will help researchers determine whether reflected radio waves are indeed coming from underneath the surface below the craft or are simply bouncing back from the surface further away from the spacecraft.

    Scientists hope to discover whether the water that once carved canyons on the Red Planet's surface has seeped into underground reserves. If there are underground caches, they may harbour life, or could perhaps be used to supply future crewed missions to Mars.

    Article source here


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  3. #2 Update 
    Forum Sophomore cleft's Avatar
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    Glitch strikes Mars Express's radar boom
    18:30 09 May 2005
    NewScientist.com news service
    Maggie McKee

    A radar boom on the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft did not completely straighten out after it deployed, the agency says.

    Mission members say the problem will probably have little effect on the boom's ability to search for underground water on Mars, but they have delayed the deployment of a second boom - crucial for the experiment to function - to investigate the matter.

    On 4 May, mission officials in Darmstadt, Germany, commanded the first of two 20-metre-long antennae on the MARSIS (Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding) experiment to pop out of its storage box. It had been folded there since before the mission's launch in June 2003.

    Initial telemetry for the spacecraft's movement suggested the boom had deployed successfully. But engineers combing more carefully through the data noticed on 7 May that one of the boom's 13 folded segments had apparently not locked into a horizontal position as planned. The problem appears to be with the 10th segment.

    Source and rest of article here
    Once again it seems that Mars is a difficult target for planning missions. Space is truely a harsh mistress and rough on equipment.

    The purpose of these booms is to help us discover if there might be water underground. If water can be found there is a possibility of life. Even if no life is found there will still be water needed for any manned missions. Hauling water in space is a costly venture. Worse it would limit just how long any visitors we sent to Mars would be able to stay. As it is there aren't but two windows in which to go and come in. There is the fast lane travel, with high fuel costs and there is the slow lane with more economical travel but longer staying times required on the planet to make that round trip. To stay a long time, water will be a requirement to have there and not something to haul with them in the volume they will need.


    "Moral indignation is jealousy with a halo."
    - H. G. Wells (1866-1946)
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