Imperial’s role in Mars mission

Scientists at Imperial College have developed micro-machine technology for NASA’s Phoenix mission to help explore surface conditions on Mars


Scientists at Imperial College London have developed micro-machine technology for NASA’s Phoenix mission to help explore surface conditions on Mars.



Dr Tom Pike and his team at Imperial’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering have provided substrates-surfaces that will hold dust and soil samples for examination in a microscope station attached to the Phoenix lander, which was launched at the beginning of August. The mission aims to find potential biological habitable areas on Mars.



A mechanical excavating arm will pick up the samples, which will then be analysed through an optical microscope and an atomic force microscope to provide a high-resolution image.



‘Nobody has looked at Mars at this type of resolution. It is very difficult to predict what we might find, but if you wanted to look for the earliest forms of past or present life we will be the first to look closely enough,’ said Pike.



The mission aims to find potential biological habitable areas on Mars by exploring the surface of the northern polar region of the planet, known as the Vastitas Borealis. The spacecraft will investigate whether frozen water near the surface will periodically melt enough to sustain a habitable site for primitive microbes.



Scientists have three months from the landing date to carry out their analyses before the Martian winter starts and the solar panels no longer provide enough power to run the vehicle.