PARIS – The Curiosity rover of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission is now halfway to Mars after being launched by an Atlas rocket on Nov. 26 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, to study current meteorological conditions and explore the conditions that existed millions of years ago.
Curiosity aims to study the surface of the Red Planet using instruments such as the Rover Environmental Monitoring Station (REMS) developed by the Barcelona School of Telecommunications Engineering (UPC). Composed of a suite of sensors, REMS will measure air and ground temperature, atmospheric pressure, ultraviolet radiation, humidity, as well as wind speed and direction on Mars.
The data recorded will help scientists grasp a better understanding of the Martian climate and determine if conditions on Mars are favorable for supporting microbial life.
The REM station includes a wind sensor equipped with a silicon chip designed and manufactured in the clean room lab of the Micro and Nanotechnologies Research Group, which is attached to the UPC’s Department of Electronic Engineering. The chip was tested under the supervision of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, researchers claimed.
Etched into the surface of the chip on a micrometric scale are the names of the five researchers who developed the component: Lluis Castañer, Vicente Jiménez, Manuel Domínguez, Lukasz Kowalski and Jordi Ricart.
Scientists at UPC noted that, due to the rover design, REMS’ sensors are distributed in different rover locations. The final configuration has four modules: two booms, UV sensor and the pressure sensor.
The two booms are meant for environmental tests. Wind sensors are located on the boom tips, air temperature sensor is in the lower part and ground temperature and humidity in the boom body, which hosts the acquisition electronics, scientists noted.
The UV sensor is located on the rover deck and is composed of six photodiodes in the following ranges: 335-395 nm (UVA), 280-325 nm (UVB), 220-275 nm (UVC), 210-380 nm (total dose), 245-290 nm and 310-335 nm, with an accuracy better than 5 percent of the full range.
The Pressure sensor, UPC researchers continued, will be located inside the rover body and connected with the atmosphere by a small opening with a protection to avoid dust deposition. Its measurement range goes down to vacuum (0 to 1150 Pa) with and accuracy (end-of-life) better than 10 Pa.
As of March 29, Curiosity has traveled about 196 million miles (316 million kilometers) of its 352-million-mile (567-million-kilometer) flight to Mars. It is due to reach its destination on August 6, 2012. (Click here to watch a real-life visualization of its journey through space and get up-to-date sets data using NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System 3-D interactive
A video –in Spanish- is available here
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