Western students operate Mars rover in partnership with Canadian Space Agency

Western media release – In partnership with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), students from Western University are leading a simulated Mars Rover mission, boldly training the next-generation of space scientists and engineers through an integrated learning experience. 

For the next two weeks, the Western-led team, which also includes students from Queen’s University and York University, is remotely operating the Mars Exploration Science Rover (MESR) on a Martian analogue (substitute) terrain located in Saint-Hubert, Quebec at the John H. Chapman Space Centre. 

The Mars Rover is a six-wheeled automated vehicle with a robotic arm equipped with a microscope and mini-corer to drill into rocks, take samples and perform analysis of rocks using its high definition microscope instrument. For chemical and mineralogical analysis the rover is also equipped with X-ray fluorescence and Raman spectrometers, as well as a Lidar for producing 3D maps of the terrain. As part of the collaboration, the Western-led team will share their data and lessons learned with CSA to better inform future exploration projects.

Media are invited to visit “Mission Control,” which is organized like an actual space mission with a Mission Manager, Science and Planning Leads, and various Instrument Leads, on Friday, August 15 from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Mission Control is located in Western’s Biological & Geological Sciences, Room 184. Visits are also available next week at the same time by request. 

Utilizing the suite of instruments on the Rover, the team is searching for scientifically significant rocks and soil. A remote group, working at CSA, has a limited amount of time to determine how to select the best samples for science, as would be the case for a real mission to return samples from Mars to Earth. 

A Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission remains one of the highest priorities of the international planetary exploration community. Returning a Martian sample to Earth would allow scientists to perform far more detailed analyses in terrestrial laboratories than could be performed robotically on the surface of Mars and could potentially reveal important insight into Martian climate, geology, habitability, and perhaps even life detection.

The Mission Control team will travel to Saint-Hubert, Quebec to join the rover team for a mission debrief at the CSA on Monday, Aug 25.

This CREATE (Collaborative Research and Training Experience) program, titled  Technologies and Techniques for Earth and Space Exploration, (http://cpsx.uwo.ca/research/nserc-create-2) is funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and led by Gordon Osinski, an Earth Sciences professor in Western’s Faculty of Science and Associate Director of Western’s Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX).

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