Sensors for Mars.

02/07/2020
International collaboration takes Vaisala and the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) to Mars onboard NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover. The rover is scheduled for launch on July 30, 2020. Vaisala’s sensor technology combined with FMI’s measurement instrumentation will be used to obtain accurate and reliable pressure and humidity data from the surface of the red planet.

The Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) is among the scientific partners providing measurement equipment for the new Perseverance rover, expected to launch in July and land on Mars in February 2021. The pressure and humidity measurement devices developed by the FMI are based on Vaisala’s world known sensor technology and are similar but more advanced to the ones sent to Mars on the first Curiosity rover in 2012.

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Welcome to learn about space-proof technology, how it works, what it does, why it’s important, and why measurements play a key role in space research. You’ll hear examples and stories by our experts, and by a special guest speaker, who will be sharing his own experiences and insights of space.
• Date: July 20, 2020
•Time: 15.30-16.30 EEST – 14.30-15.30 CEST – 08.30-09.30 EDT

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The new mission equipment complements the Curiosity rover. While working on Mars, the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers will form a small-scale observation network. The network is only the first step, anticipating the extensive observation network planned on Mars in the future.

International and scientific collaboration aims to gather knowledge of the Martian atmosphere and other environmental conditions
The Mars 2020 mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. In order to obtain data from the surface from the Red Planet, NASA selected trusted partners to provide measurement instruments for installation on the Mars rover. A Spanish-led European consortium provides the rover with Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA); a set of sensors that provides measurements of temperature, wind speed and direction, pressure, relative humidity, and the amount and size of dust particles.

As part of the consortium, FMI delivers instrumentation to MEDA for humidity and pressure measurements based on Vaisala’s top quality sensors.

“Mars, as well as Venus, the other sister planet of Earth, is a particularly important area of atmospheric investigations due to its similarities to Earth. Studying Mars helps us also better understand the behavior of Earth’s atmosphere”, comments Maria Genzer, Head of Planetary Research and Space Technology group at FMI.

The harsh and demanding conditions of Mars require the most reliable sensor technology that provides accurate and reliable data without maintenance or repair.

“We are honored that Vaisala’s core sensor technologies have been selected to provide accurate and reliable measurement data on Mars. In line with our mission to enable observations for a better world, we are excited to be part of this collaboration. Hopefully the measurement technology will provide tools for finding answers to the most pressing challenges of our time, such as climate change,” says Liisa Åström, Vice President, Products and Systems of Vaisala.

Same technology, different planet – utilizing Vaisala core technologies for accuracy and long-term stability
In the extreme conditions of the Martian atmosphere, NASA will be able to obtain accurate readings of pressure and humidity levels with Vaisala’s HUMICAP® and BAROCAP® sensors. The sensors’ long-term stability and accuracy, as well as their ability to tolerate dust, chemicals, and harsh environmental conditions, make them suitable for very demanding measurement needs, also in space. The same technology is used in numerous industrial and environmental applications such as weather stations, radiosondes, greenhouses and datacenters.

Barocap Wafer

The humidity measurement device MEDA HS, developed by FMI for Perseverance, utilizes standard Vaisala HUMICAP® humidity sensors. HUMICAP® is a capacitive thin-film polymer sensor consisting of a substrate on which a thin film of polymer is deposited between two conductive electrodes. The humidity sensor onboard is a new generation sensor, with superior performance also in the low pressure conditions expected on the red planet.

In addition to humidity measurements, FMI has developed a device for pressure measurement, MEDA PS, which uses customized Vaisala BAROCAP® pressure sensors, optimized to operate in the Martian climate. BAROCAP® is a silicon-based micromechanical pressure sensor that offers reliable performance in a wide variety of applications, from meteorology to pressure sensitive industrial equipment in semiconductor industry and laboratory pressure standard measurements. Combining two powerful technologies – single-crystal silicon material and capacitive measurement – BAROCAP® sensors feature low hysteresis combined with excellent accuracy and long-term stability, both essential for measurements in space.

“Our sensor technologies are used widely in demanding everyday measurement environments here on Earth. And why not – if they work on Mars, they will work anywhere,” Åström concludes.

@VaisalaGroup @FMIspace @NASAPersevere #Metrology #Finland


A fascinating story: Trash to gas project to help life on Mars!

30/11/2014
If you are travelling to Mars on a journey that will last for several months, you need to maintain good breathing air quality and you need to manage your resources very carefully. This article describes research on the off-gases from astronaut waste; checking that they are not harmful and figuring out if they can be converted into water, oxygen and rocket propellant.

As part of a project to measure the effects of long-term isolation on astronauts, small groups of individuals have been selected to live in a tiny ‘Habitat’ perched on the upper slope of a volcano in Hawaii. In doing so, the project team has contributed to the understanding of issues that would confront a manned mission to Mars.

NASA’s Anne Caraccio analyzing waste gases during simulated Mars mission

NASA’s Anne Caraccio analyzing waste gases during simulated Mars mission

For example NASA’s Anne Caraccio studied off-gases from the crew’s trash with a portable Gasmet FTIR gas analyzer. “Waste from the crew’s everyday activities are routinely sorted and stored, but we need to know the composition of the off-gases from these materials for health and safety reasons, and also to determine whether these gases could be utilised beneficially,” Anne reports.

The work was undertaken during the second of four HI-SEAS (Hawaiʻi Space Exploration Analog and Simulation) missions which involved living with 5 other crew members for a period of 120 days in a two-story solar powered dome just 11 metres in diameter with a small attached workshop the size of a shipping container. In addition to the completion of a range of tasks that were set by the project, each crew member conducted their own research, which in Anne’s case was known as ‘Trash to Gas’, a programme working on the development of a reactor to convert waste from long-duration missions into useful commodities such as water, life-support oxygen and rocket propellant.

The main objective of the second HI-SEAS mission was to evaluate the performance and the social and psychological status of the crew members whilst they lived in cramped isolated conditions in a lava rock environment that resembled Mars.

Crew members were allowed outside of the Habitat, but in order to do so they had to wear simulated spacesuits and undergo a 5 minute mock compression/decompression. Since the FTIR gas analyser is portable (14Kg), Anne was able to conduct additional monitoring both inside and outside the Habitat in order to compare data with the waste off-gas measurements. “Size, weight and portability are obviously of major importance on a project such as this, but the main advantage of this technology was its ability to measure a large number of compounds simultaneously; I measured 24 VOCs such as acetaldehyde, methane and ethylene, but the instrument also stores spectra for the measurements so it is possible to retrospectively analyze data if it becomes necessary to look for a particular compound at a later stage.”

Anne’s monitoring provided a clear view of the most important gases within the Habitat. For example, stored waste had the highest relative levels of ethanol (due to crew members’ hygiene wipes and cleaning products) and water vapor (due to residual water from food and plant waste). The laboratory where plants were growing had the lowest relative level of methane. The waste bins had higher relative levels of nitrous oxide and pentane, and the bathroom had the highest levels of acetaldehyde.

The FTIR gas analyser, a DX4040, was supplied by the company Gasmet Technologies. “We were very pleased to be able to help with this project,” says Gasmet’s Jim Cornish. “The simultaneous monitoring of multiple compounds is a common application for our FTIR analyzers, however, they are usually employed measuring gases in stack emissions, industrial processes, greenhouse gas research and in hazmat scenarios. We usually tell prospective customers that advanced FTIR technology is simple to use; ‘it’s not rocket science’ we tell them, so I guess we will have to rephrase that now.”

The waste produced during the HI-SEAS mission was measured during the entire mission, although this was for a shorter period than would be expected of an actual long duration mission. The Trash-to-Gas reactor processed HI-SEAS waste simulant at the Kennedy Space Center with results demonstrating that a future reactor would be most efficient with specific material processing cycles to maximize the desired output. Automation will also be needed in the future Trash-to-Gas reactor because the current technology would require too much of a crew member’s logistical time. The Trash-to-Gas reactor first converts waste into carbon dioxide, which is then mixed with hydrogen in a Sabatier reaction to produce methane and water.

The Kennedy Space Center Trash-to-Gas reactor processed three waste types and produced 9% of the power that would have been needed during the HI-SEAS mission. As part of the psychological assessment, each member of the crew completed regular surveys and kept diaries. They also wore ‘sociometric’ badges that recorded conversation patterns and voice tone.

Commenting on the psychological results of the project, Anne says “The crew were essentially strangers when they entered the Habitat, which is unlike a typical space mission in which the crew would have worked and trained together for a number of months or even years. Nevertheless, the crew coped extremely well with living and working in such close proximity, and there were no significant periods of stress in my opinion.”

The third Hi-SEAS mission began on October 15, 2014. Again, a 6 member crew will conduct a similar mission, with the exception that it will last for 8 months. Anne says: “Participation in these missions requires a real passion for science, technology and space travel. The application process includes a class 2 flight medical, a personal research project proposal, essays, interviews and educational requirements, all of which is similar to the NASA astronaut application procedure.” Looking forward, she says: “The technology to travel to Mars has not yet been fully developed, but it is anticipated that a human mission could be possible in the future. The journey to Mars would take around one year, so I hope that our Trash-to-Gas research will contribute to the science that could make such a mission possible.”