Canada Joins NASA 2007 Mission to Mars

Press Release From: MDA
Posted: Friday, August 8, 2003

BRAMPTON, Ont. -- NASA announced today that the Scout Mission "Phoenix," that includes a sophisticated instrumentation package developed by a team of Canadian scientists and engineers, has been selected to go to Mars in 2007.

The focus of the Canadian team will be on studies of the Martian atmosphere using laser radar (lidar) technology. Researchers from York University, headed by Dr. Allan Carswell, Professor Emeritus at York and Chairman of Optech Incorporated, will lead the Canadian scientific investigations in collaboration with scientists from several other Canadian universities.

"This is a wonderful recognition of Canada's leading role in atmospheric science and the advancement of lidar technology." said Dr. Carswell.

The Canadian weather sensing system will be provided by Brampton, Ontario-based MD Robotics, a subsidiary of MacDonald Dettwiler, supported by the world-leading lidar technology of Toronto-based Optech Incorporated.

"We are excited about the significant contribution that Canadian technology will play in the exploration of Mars," said Dr. Christian Sallaberger, director of space exploration at MD Robotics. "We look forward to sharing this adventure with our US partners."

In December of 2002 NASA selected for further investigation four candidate missions, judged to have the highest science value, from a submission of 25 proposals for the 2007 Mars Scout program. Phoenix was one of these and in early 2003 a team of U.S. and Canadian researchers was funded by NASA and the Canadian Space Agency to prepare a detailed proposal for the 2007 mission. This proposal has just been accepted.

"Our congratulations go out to both Canadian teams, Marvel and Phoenix, who came to the forefront of this international competition." said Marc Garneau, President of the Canadian Space Agency. "Today's announcement, NASA's selection of the Phoenix team for the Mars 2007 Scout Mission is recognition of Canada's world renowned technology and leading space science expertise", he added.

The Principal Investigator of Phoenix is Dr. Peter Smith, University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. In June 2008 Phoenix will land a craft on the surface of Mars to search for habitable zones and to study the history of water on Mars. It aims to follow the water and measure "indicator" molecules at high-latitude sites where the earlier Mars Odyssey Mission has discovered evidence of large ice concentrations in the Martian soil. This region is one of the few places on Mars that presents the possibility of the periodic presence of liquid water as orbital dynamics change the regional climate.

The Phoenix team will use a robotic arm to excavate a trench and retrieve samples for geological and chemical analysis. Instruments sensitive to minute quantities of organic molecules will enable an assessment of the habitability of the icy layer for microbial life, past and present. The Canadian team will conduct climate studies that will provide information on the present-day environment, including the local water vapor flux in and out of the surface layer. Past climates can be inferred from clues in the trench walls.

The Phoenix mission will fly on a lander originally prepared for a mission canceled in 2001. This lander provides a highly reliable means to soft-land on Mars since it includes the capability for guided entry and hazard avoidance using camera and lidar observations. Optech's planetary landing lidar technology, developed in association with CSA and MD Robotics, could also contribute to the success of this landing capability. Phoenix researchers come from a number of U.S. universities and government agencies as well as from Canada, Germany and Switzerland.

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