Two five-pound electronic instruments built by Raytheon Company's Space and Airborne Systems (SAS) remain thirsty on Mars.
The miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometers (mini-TES) reached the planet on the exploration rovers Spirit and Opportunity in January 2004 with an expected service life of about 90 days. Continuing the long line of Santa Barbara Remote Sensing space sensors that have exceeded design life, the devices are about three months into their second year of service measuring infrared radiation from the surface of the planet and examining minerals in a search for signs of water.
They've found substantial evidence of the liquid. The journal Science cited the work of the rovers, which are beginning new phases of exploration on the Martian surface, and their decisive mini-TES observations as the scientific breakthrough of 2004.
"The Mars rovers ... have sniffed out water and found the remains of one or more ancient environments where life could have survived," the publication reported. "Indeed, early Mars is looking wetter and wetter."
The spectrometers determine the mineral composition of Martian surface features and select specific rocks and soils to investigate in detail. Evidence of minerals formed in the presence of water may help scientists establish whether life exists or has occurred on Mars. Besides determining surface composition, the instruments are composing the first high-resolution temperature profiles of the boundary layer of the planet's atmosphere.
The mini-TES is a miniaturized version of the Thermal Emission Spectrometer developed by Raytheon for the Mars Global Surveyor mission launched in 1996. The TES, which has been supplying data to scientists since it began operation in 1998, helped choose landing sites for the rovers, as did another Raytheon component, the THEMIS (Thermal Emission Imaging System).
"We're excited to be associated with this mission, and we're proud that Raytheon equipment is playing such an essential and long-lived role in its extraordinary success," Jack Kelble, president of SAS, said. "The exploration of Mars is an important activity for Raytheon."
The spectrometers, each operating on less than five watts of power, were developed by Raytheon for the Department of Geological Sciences at Arizona State University. They're aboard rovers launched in June and July 2003 by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Although transmission issues have affected the Opportunity rover recently, it continues to send data to its handlers.
"The two instruments we've put on the surface of Mars represent the culmination of 20 years of collaboration between Raytheon and Arizona State University," said Dr. Phil Christensen, professor of geology and principal investigator for the mini-TES program. "For me, this has been a remarkable opportunity to work with some of the most talented people I've ever known and accomplish things that were beyond my wildest dreams."
Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, with 2004 sales of $4 billion and headquarters in El Segundo, is a leading provider of sensor systems. The business employs more than 13,000 and has additional facilities in Goleta, Calif., Dallas, McKinney and Plano, Texas, and several international locations.
Raytheon Company, with 2004 sales of $20.2 billion, is an industry leader in defense and government electronics, space, information technology, technical services and special-mission aircraft. Headquartered in Waltham, Mass., Raytheon employs 80,000 people worldwide.