Climate & Space faculty, students and engineers have been actively involved in space science missions since 1946. Active missions include the following:
In July 2004, the Cassini-Huygens Mission to Saturn and Titan, one of the planet’s 31 moons, ended its journey to the stunning planet, which began October 15, 1997. While the Cassini orbital instruments is sending back data about the planet’s unique rings, the ESA designed Huygens Probe studied the clouds, atmosphere and surface of Saturn’s moon Titan. Huygens was released in December 2004 and sent back spectacular data.
The Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission is a Solar-Terrestrial Probe mission comprising four identically instrumented spacecraft that will use Earth’s magnetosphere as a laboratory to study the microphysics of three fundamental plasma processes: magnetic reconnection, energetic particle acceleration, and turbulence.
The European Space Agency spacecraft, Mars Express, reached Mars in 2003. Since that time the seven orbiter instruments have been continuously relaying valuable information back to scientists.
After launch in August 2005, a seven-month journey and six months of slowing down through aerobraking, the MRO began it’s mission of learning about the history of water on Mars. It’s survey of the planet is aided by the largest camera ever flown on a planetary mission, bringing even closer the mysteries of the red planet for scientists to analyze. MRO established the first link in a communications bridge to Earth…the beginning of an interplanetary internet.
NASA’s twin robot geologists, the Mars Exploration Rovers, launched toward Mars on June 10 and July 7, 2003, in search of answers about the history of water on Mars. The Spirit and Opportunity Rovers landed on the red planet in January 2004 and began fulfilling their main scientific goal to search for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars.
NASA is planning to launch a mobile science laboratory to Mars in 2009, and College of Engineering students in ENG 450, a class sponsored by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, are working on possible projects for the mission. The Mars Science Laboratory is envisioned as a roving long-range, long-duration mission to Mars. Building upon the success of the Mars Rovers, the MSL is intended to be the first planetary mission to use precision landing techniques.
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission is part of NASA’s Mars Scout program, funded by NASA Headquarters. Launched in Nov. 2013, the mission is exploring the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere, and interactions with the sun and solar wind. Researchers will use MAVEN data to determine the role that loss of volatiles from the Mars atmosphere to space has played through time, giving insight into the history of Mars’ atmosphere and climate, liquid water, and planetary habitability.
MESSENGER, set to become the first spacecraft to orbit the planet Mercury, launched at 2:15:56 a.m. on August 3, 2004. MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) should reach the planet closest to the Sun in July 2011 carrying the Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer (FIPS) instrument built by Climate & Space/SPRL.
The Phoenix lander, originally part of the 2001 Mars Surveyor Program, landed on Mars May 25, 2008, in the first “soft” landing on the planet since 1976. Now the first Mars “Scout” mission designed to study the planet’s ice cap, Phoenix’s robotic arm will dig three feet into the Mars ice cap, collecting ice and soil samples as it “follows the water.” In addition to a unique camera system, the Phoenix instrumentation will be able to examine materials 1000 times less than the width of a human hair.
With it’s March 2, 2004 launch, the ESA Rosetta cometary probe began it’s 10-year journey to the comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Rosetta will complete three flybys of Earth, one of Mars and will pass close to at least one asteroid in it’s journey to the origins of the Solar System.
STEREO (Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory) is the third mission in NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Probes program (STP). This two-year mission will employ two nearly identical space-based observatories – one ahead of Earth in its orbit, the other trailing behind – to provide the first-ever stereoscopic measurements to study the Sun and the nature of its coronal mass ejections, or CMEs.
The European Space Agency Venus Express will study our nearest planetary neighbour. It has been built around the design of Mars Express, making it quicker and cheaper to develop. In particular, Venus Express will study the Venusian atmosphere and clouds in unprecedented detail and accuracy. The spacecraft will travel through space for 162 days and once it is captured by Venusian gravity, it will take five days to maneuver into its operational orbit.