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Frances Westall,
Frédéric Foucher,
Centre de Biophysique Moléculaire,
UPR CNRS 4301,
rue Charles Sadron,
45071 Orléans Cedex 2


Mentions légales

Objectives of the ISAR

Sketch to illustrate the aim of the ISAR. Credit illustration: ESA, NASA.

Instruments for in situ missions to extraterrestrial bodies should ideally be cross calibrated using a common suite of relevant materials. Such multi-instrument calibration would enable better comparison of instrument performances during the mission, as well as aid in the interpretation of the in situ measurements.

In view of the present mission MSL and of the upcoming 2018 ExoMars rover mission (see below for more details on the exploration of Mars), we are concentrating initially on materials of direct relevance to Mars. The initial collection includes basalts (ultramafic, weathered, andesitic, hydrothermallysilicified); sediments (volcanic, biolaminated, banded iron formation); and minerals (silica, evaporites, clays, Fe oxides). This set of samples is being continually increased. All samples have been characterised morphologically, petrologically, and geochemically using the types of analyses likely to be performed during an in situ mission: hand specimen description, optical microscopy, mineralogical analysis (XRD, Raman and IR spectrometry), and elemental analysis (EDX, electron microprobe, ICP-MS/OES).

Missions to Mars

Part I: Past and Actual Martian Exploration

Past missions: Artist’s conceptions of the different Martian probes. 
		In the top to the bottom: Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey, Mars Express, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Sojourner-Pathfinder, Mars Exploration Rover, and Phoenix. Credits: NASA, JPL, ESA.

More than 40 missions have been launched to explore Mars. After Viking 1 and Viking 2, launched by the NASA in 1975 (more), scientists had to wait a long time for new observations of the geology of Mars. In this part, we list the previous missions and instrumentation used to study the Martian geology and whose data are the basis of this initial project.

The missions to Mars consist of two types: orbital and surface missions.

The orbital missions provide global mineralogical information. In 1996, the first probe after Viking to be launched to Mars was MGS (more). This NASA-JPL orbiter contain the Mars Orbiter Camera (MOC), the Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter (MOLA) and the Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES). This mission was essential for obtaining topographic maps of Mars. In 2001, NASA launched the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission (more). This orbiter contains a Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) and a Gamma Ray Spectrometer (GRS). The next mission named Mars Express was launched by ESA on the 2nd June 2003 (more). This probe contains a stereoscopic camera (the High Resolution Stereo Camera, HRSC), an infrared spectrometer (the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer, PFS), and an IR-spectro-imager OMEGA (Observatoire pour la Minéralogie, l’Eau, les Glaces et l’Activité). The last orbital mission was the MRO (more) launched in 2005 by NASA. This orbiter has a High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HIRISE), a Mars Color Imager (MARCI) for imaging the surface, and a Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer to Mars (CRISM). To date, only Mars Express and MRO are still working.

The surface missions include two types of space vehicles: landers and rovers. On the fourth July 1997, the first rover, Sojourner from the Mars Pathfinder mission launched by NASA landed on the Martian surface (more). This small rover explored the landing site Inres Vallis and studied rocks, such as "Yoggi", "Scooby Doo" and "Moe", using cameras and analysed their elemental compositions using the alpha Proton X-ray Spectrometer (APXS). The next mission developed by the NASA was the MERs (more) launched in two phases in the summer of 2003. This mission had two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. Spirit landed in Gusev crater and Opportunity in Meridiani Planum in January 2004. The twin rovers have a mast with two cameras including a panoramic camera, an arm with a Rock Abrasive Tool (RAT), an APXS, a Mössbauer and a Microscope Imager (MI) for rocks and minerals interpretation. An infrared spectrometer was placed on the top of the mast. The NASA Phoenix mission (more) was landed in Vastitas Borealis at the North Pole in 2008, where the lander observed traces of water ice and carbonates. The last mission to be landed on the 6 August 2012 on Mars, by NASA is the MSL (more) with the rover Curiosity. This rover is really a geologist on wheels! It is fitted with different cameras (MastCam on the mast, and a microscopic camera Mars Hand Lens Imager –MAHLI-, on the arm) and various mineralogical and geological instruments, such as a Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS, on ChemCam), X-ray diffraction and fluorescence (XRD and XRF), an APXS and a Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) for analyzing organic molecules. All these probes, except Phoenix, landed in the equatorial regions.

MSL has the following science objectives:

Biological objectives:
(i) Determine the nature and inventory of organic carbon compounds;
(ii) Inventory the chemical building blocks of life (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and sulfur);
(iii) Identify features that may represent the effects of biological processes.
Geological and geochemical objectives:
(i) Investigate the chemical, isotopic, and mineralogical composition of the martian surface and near-surface geological materials;
(ii) Interpret the processes that have formed and modified rocks and soils.
Planetary process objectives:
(i) Assess long-timescale (i.e., 4-billion-year) atmospheric evolution processes;
(ii) Determine present state, distribution, and cycling of water and carbon dioxide.
Surface radiation objective:
Characterize the broad spectrum of surface radition, including galactic cosmic radiation, solar proton events, and secondary neutrons.

The Rover curiosity on the Martian surface. Credit: NASA.

Part II: Future Martian Exploration

In 2001, the ESA initiated the Aurora program, a long-term plan for robotic and human exploration of the solar system, in particular on Mars, and for the search for extraterrestrial life. The first step of this exploration is the ExoMars mission (more). ExoMars had been redefined several times since the beginning of the project, in particular for financial reasons. In its present version, the mission will be financed jointly by ESA and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency. This 2018 mission to Mars has a number of scientific objectives, which are listed below in order of priority:

  • (i) the search for possible biosignatures of past or present life;
  • (ii) the characterisation of the water and geochemical distribution as a function of depth in the shallow subsurface;
  • (iii) the study of the surface environment;
  • (iv) the investigation of the planet's subsurface and deep interior in order to better understand the evolution and habitability of Mars;
  • (v) the achievement of incremental steps ultimately culminating in a sample return flight.

SElements of the ESA ExoMars program 2016-2018. On the left TGO and the EDM, to be launched in 2016, and on the right the rover equipped with a drill (in black in front of the rover), 
		to be launched in 2018. The NASA Rover part of the project was deleted in February 2012. Credit: ESA.

The first part of the mission will be the launch of the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and of the Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM) in 2016. The TGO objective is to analyse the atmospheric composition, in particular of methane that may possibly be associated with life processes. This probe will also act as a telecom relay for the 2018 in situ mission. The EDM will be a static lander with the objective of demonstrating ESA’s ability to land on Mars. It will also study the dust in the atmosphere during decent and make several meteorological measurements on the surface.The second part of the mission will be the launch of a rover in 2018. The particularity of this rover will be its drill capable of drilling up to 2 meters in depth . Before the definition of a joint mission, the ESA ExoMars rover weighed approximately 260 kg with only 16.5 kg of instruments: the Pasteur payload, consisting of nine instruments located inside an analytical laboratory as well as on the outside of the rover. As of writing, although it is planned to add new Russian instruments, all the Pasteur instruments will be maintained in the new joint mission. Since few months, two of the ExoMars instruments have been deleted, the Mars-XRD and the Life Marker Chip owing to weight constaints.

Missions to other bodies

Presently, the sample selection for the ISAR is focussed on the future Mars missions. However, depending on the future missions, new samples will be added to the collection and this part will be completed.

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