Med et 'Boarding Pass' til Mars-2020-missionen, kan man få sit navn med til Mars, lover NASA. (Illustration: NASA/MGA/DTU Space)

DTU equipment on board NASA’s next big mission to Mars

Tuesday 28 May 19

Contact

John Leif Jørgensen
Professor and Head of Measurement and Instrumentation
DTU Space
+4545 25 34 48
NASA will soon launch its Mars 2020 mission to the red planet with DTU equipment on board. Already now NASA is offering people across the planet a boarding pass for the mission.

There will be advanced scientific equipment from DTU Space on board to take pictures on the surface of the red planet when NASA launches the big Mars 2020 mission into space next year. DTU equipment is currently being incorporated into the rover vehicle designed to look for signs of past life on Mars.

As a little gimmick, NASA is now enabling people across the planet to get a boarding pass, free of charge, for the mission with their name on it. NASA promises to send the name to Mars. More than 2.4 million space enthusiasts registered in just a few days after NASA had launched the offer this week.

You can fill in your own boarding pass for the mission at NASA’s website.

 So the Mars 2020 mission is attracting great interest, and Denmark’s next big contribution to space exploration is on board from the start.

"Our camera takes pictures of the Mars surface, so if signs of life are found up there, our equipment will have taken the pictures to prove it."
Professor John Leif Jørgensen, DTU Space

“It’s a major milestone marking the culmination of many years of work here at DTU. We are proud to supply equipment meeting NASA’s very stringent quality and performance requirements,” says Professor John Leif Jørgensen, Head of Measurement and Instrumentation at DTU Space.

DTU Space has supplied essential equipment in the form of a unique camera system based on star camera technology. The equipment is part of the PIXL instrument designed to look for signs of past life on Mars. The PIXL system is located on the rover arm.

Currently, the electronics of the DTU equipment are being mounted inside the rover body as the last part of the innards before the rover is sealed up. This is taking place at NASA/JPL Caltech in California. The rover will then be sent Florida for the final assembly and testing until the launch from Cape Canaveral in 2020.

Read more about the PIXL instrument at NASA’s website.

 The main PIXL (Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry) instrument will scan and examine selected rocks on Mars for signs of life. This is done by means of an X-ray fluorescence sensor. This enables analysis of the chemical makeup of the surface, among other things. The chemical makeup can reveal any signs of signatures of fossil biological material in the rock material.

The DTU Space equipment is to position the PIXL instrument precisely and also take pictures and map colour and contrast.

“This is absolutely vital equipment for the mission. Our camera takes pictures of the Mars surface, so if signs of life are found up there, our equipment will have taken the pictures to prove it,” says John Leif Jørgensen.

“We also do hyperspectral imaging recordings in the infrared and ultraviolet wavelength range—so much more than meets the eye. This allows mapping of both rock morphology and geology to a very high degree of detail.”

PIXL can examine rock material the size of a small grain of sand and thus effectively search for potential signs of past life in the form of deposits of biological life on Mars.

Udstyr fra DTU Space til PIXL-instrumentet integreres i roveren til NASA's Mars-2020-mission i maj 2019. (Foto: NASA)
DTU Space equipment for the PIXL instrument is integrated into the rover for the NASA Mars 2020 mission in May 2019. (Photo: NASA).


​Facts about the DTU equipment for the Mars 2020 mission

The DTU equipment for the Mars 2020 mission consists of a Micro Context Camera and a Floodlight system mounted on the outside of a rover arm together with the main PIXL instrument. It is connected via a cable to a computer in the rover body, processing the data from the camera system. The processed data is then transmitted to the central computer in the PIXL instrument.


The DTU Micro Context Camera takes pictures of the surface on Mars, while the Floodlight system around it provides a ‘flash-light’. The picture data enables calculation of, e.g., orientation and position, and this data is used to ensure precise navigation and positioning of the main PIXL instrument on the surface of Mars. In addition, the DTU equipment uses hyperspectral imaging recordings to map the geology and morphology of the rock samples.


The main PIXL computer collects and processes all data from rock examinations, compresses it, and transmits it to Earth where researchers will analyse it. Since the DTU Space camera will be the one to take the first pictures of the areas examined, it will also be the first to document any signs of past life on Mars.


Read more about Mars 2020 on NASA’s mission website.

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