The UK Space Agency says it is making £1.6m available in support of projects to further explore Mars.
The funding will support projects to better understand the past and present environment and geophysics of Mars; to characterise the biological environment of the planet; and to search for traces of past and present life.
It is expected that the funding will also keep the UK at the forefront of ESA’s Aurora Programme, a long-term plan for the robotic and human exploration of the solar system.
According to the UK Space Agency, Mars is the most Earth-like planet in the Solar System. It is the most likely planet to have supported life at some point in its history as it shows substantial evidence of surface water in the past. Even today, liquid water could still be present at depth beneath the surface.
Dr David Williams, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, said: ‘Understanding the conditions that could have supported life on Mars is an important step towards addressing one of mankind’s most fundamental questions: are we alone in the Universe?
‘Thanks to the scientific and technological advances made from investment in programmes such as Aurora, we can address this question by exploring our Solar System. The Aurora programme brings together the best of UK minds and industry, further develops our highly skilled space sector and delivers economic impact through technology spin-outs.’
The funding scheme is open to academics and Research Council institutions for proposals to fund project studentships, individual fellowships, research assistants to support academics and support for academics to participate in international science teams.