Vacuum Chambers MARTE Designed to Mimic Conditions on Mars to Explore Habitability

First Posted: Mar 26, 2014 07:44 AM EDT

A newly designed vacuum chamber by a research team from Spain is capable of mimicking most of the conditions present on the Martian world. It is designed for use in future mission to Mars.

Mars has been a key target for future space missions mainly because of the possibility that it can support microbial life.  To know more about the habitability of the fourth planet from the Sun, it is necessary to have high tech novel sensors and instruments that can detect not just the atmosphere but also the characteristics of the planet's surface. 

To solve this, researchers from Centro de Astrobiologia, INTA-CSIC, and Instituto de Ciencias de Materials de Madrid mimicked the conditions on Mars in vacuum chambers dubbed MARTE. These chambers replicate the physical conditions of Mars including temperature, pressure, composition of gas and radiation.  With the help of these chambers the researchers can experimentally replicate the conditions to test the instruments in real environmental settings.

The vacuum chamber MARTE  is not able to mimic the gravity on Mars, which is much lower compared to that of the Earth. Other conditions that the chamber could not mimic include the planet's volume, according to The Verge

Despite these setbacks, Jesus Sobrado, the scientist in charge of the machine's technical development claims that , "Vacuum chambers can answer many questions about Mars or other related planetary bodies -- both from scientific and technology points of view."

Using the vacuum chambers, researchers are examining the meteorological sensors that are currently aboard the Curiosity rover. Researchers are now focusing on the Martian dust.

"We're simulating the effect of the Martian dust -- one of the primary problems for planetary exploration -- to gain a better understanding of how instruments behave when covered in dust," said Sobrado.

Apart from this, the team has also designed vacuum chambers to replicate the spatial environments of the surface of other planets similar to Mars's surface like the Europa, the icy moon of Jupiter and some other interplanetary regions.

The details are reported in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments.

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