A Western planetary researcher will lead a study under a contract awarded to MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) by the Canadian Space Agency to explore using a leading-edge radar technology to search for ice on Mars.
Gordon “Oz” Osinski, Acting Director of the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration at Western University, said this may be the first step in sending a Canadian-built and –operated instrument to the Red Planet.
Under the contract, MDA will conduct a feasibility study of sending a Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) Sub-Surface Ice Sounder and Imager as a potential hosted payload on a future Mars orbiter mission. MDA will team with leading scientists led by Western University and with five other Canadian academic institutions to contribute towards meeting the science requirements of the mission.
Until now, instruments have had the ability to scan only the surface or the deep sub-surface. The SAR Sounder and Imager can scan just below the surface of the planet, the “sweet spot” where ice might be found.
“This technology would give us information on the properties of surface soils and rocks on Mars and would also be able to look about 10 metres deep. That would enable us to scan for ice buried near the surface of the planet,” Osinski said.
And discovering ice would be a key finding to make human habitation there possible, he said.
The idea of sub-surface radar has been discussed in planetary-research circles for decades, Osinski said. This instrument will use radio waves to illuminate the surface of Mars. The echo of each pulse will be received and processed into information that was previously inaccessible.
MDA’s “firsts” include having been a pioneer in reconstructing an image from the first civilian space-borne SAR satellite. Its advanced technical capabilities, robust systems and sensor engineering have been key to successfully designing, building and operating the most capable space-based SAR systems in the world. While the team of researchers will ensure the science requirements of the mission are met. It will work with the science team and CSA to translate the science plan into a technical solution.
“This is an exciting, big next step in our continuing quest to bring the best research minds to the task of Mars exploration, and it’s a uniquely Canadian step,” Osinski said. “It also goes a long way towards expanding Western’s global expertise and influence as a leading researcher in exploring space, both within our solar system and far beyond it.”
The Western team will include four researchers for the six-month concept study. And, if the study leads to implementation, the team would later include a much larger core of students, and post-doctoral researchers. Other post-secondary institutions involved in the research are Brock University, University of Winnipeg, Simon Fraser University, University of Ottawa and Dawson College.
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