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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What’s the Weather Like on Mars?

Cube satellite sets sights on the red planet, outfitted by weather tech from Draper, NASA Ames and Arizona State University

CAMBRIDGE, MA – Many mysteries of Mars still remain unsolved, and among them are the atmospheric winds and their impact on the Martian climate. Gaps in knowledge persist, in part, due to severe limitations in space technology. For instance, the surface winds of Mars have been measured in only a few locations by rovers, making it difficult to identify safe landing places. Even scientists who study dust storms, dune migrations and temperature changes on Mars say their weather models could be in error by as much as 100 percent, creating more doubt than certainty. 

Draper is addressing this challenge by co-leading a research mission with NASA’s Ames Research Center and Arizona State University to understand daily climate variability and the global energy balance on Mars. The mission consists of a single, small cube satellite in an inclined polar orbit, allowing it to pass over all local times, with the baseline mission of observing the seasons and diurnal variability over an entire Martian year, which is equivalent to two Earth years. The small sat is a box approximately 20cm by 30cm by 40cm, about the size of a mini refrigerator. 
The spacecraft, known as Aeolus, is one of 10 mission concepts intended to study solar system planets and asteroids selected by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate under its Planetary Science Deep Space SmallSat (PSDS3) program. The program aims to develop a small satellite strategy, with the goal of identifying high-priority science objectives which can be addressed with CubeSats and SmallSats flying as secondary payloads on deep space missions. 

Aeolus will feature science instruments from all three organizations. Draper will provide a stack of four near-infrared Spatial Heterodyne Spectrometers fed by two orthogonal telescopes. Arizona State University will equip the satellite with its Mini-TES: Miniaturized Thermal Emission Spectrometer, and NASA’s Ames Research Center (ARC) will provide its SuRSeP: Surface Radiometric Sensor Package. 

By the end of the multi-year mission, Aeolus researchers hope to have a new understanding of the global energy balance, dust transport processes and climate cycles in the Martian atmosphere. During the mission, Aeolus will fly over Mars equipped with measuring instruments including spectrometers for reading surface temperatures, telescopes to capture wind velocities and sensors for measuring the amount of light reflected by the planet. 

“Without a clearer understanding of the climate on Mars, the goal of human exploration of the red planet is out of reach,” said David Landis, Aeolus co-investigator and senior program manager for space science instrumentation at Draper. “If we are serious about someday exploring Mars, then we need to understand the atmosphere, climate and energy balance in much better detail. This is the goal of the Draper-NASA Ames-ASU experiments.”

Aeolus would potentially launch as a secondary payload on the Mars 2022 spacecraft, which is currently planned for a low Mars orbit. The 24U CubeSat will help scientists determine the global energy balance at Mars and understand daily climate variability, according to Anthony Colaprete, Aeolus principal investigator and project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. “Aeolus would provide unique science, never before measured wind velocities and how the planet’s energy balance changes over the Martian year and as a function of time of day,” added Dr. Colaprete.

The satellite Aeolus is scheduled for a trip to Mars in 2022 to understand the atmosphere, climate and energy balance of the red planet. Photo credit: NASA.
Capabilities Used
Positioning, Navigation & Timing (PNT)

Draper develops novel PN&T solutions by combining precision instrumentation, advanced hardware technology, comprehensive algorithm and software development skills, and unique infrastructure and test resources to deploy system solutions. The scope of these efforts generally focuses on guidance, navigation, and control GN&C-related needs, ranging from highly accurate, inertial solutions for (ICBMs) and inertial/stellar solutions for SLBMs, to integrated Inertial Navigation System(INS)/GPS solutions for gun-fired munitions, to multisensor configurations for soldier navigation in GPS-challenged environments. Emerging technologies under development that leverage and advance commercial technology offerings include celestial navigation (compact star cameras), inertial navigation (MEMS, cold atom sensors), precision time transfer (precision optics, chip-scale atomic clocks) and vision-based navigation (cell phone cameras, combinatorial signal processing algorithms).

Autonomous Systems

Draper combines mission planning, PN&T, situational awareness, and novel GN&C designs to develop and deploy autonomous platforms for ground, air, sea and undersea needs. These systems range in complexity from human-in-the-loop to systems that operate without any human intervention. The design of these systems generally involves decomposing the mission needs into sets of scenarios that result in trade studies that lead to an optimized solution with key performance requirements.  Draper continues to advance the field of autonomy through research in the areas of mission planning, sensing and perception, mobility, learning, real-time performance evaluation and human trust in autonomous systems.

Precision Instrumentation

Draper develops precision instrumentation systems that exceed the state-of-the-art in key parameters (input range, accuracy, stability, bandwidth, ruggedness, etc.) that are designed specifically to operate in our sponsor’s most challenging environments (high shock, high temperature, radiation, etc.).  As a recognized leader in the development and application of precision instrumentation solutions for platforms ranging from missiles to people to micro-Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Draper finds or develops state-of-the-art components (gyros, accelerometers, magnetometers, precision clocks, optical systems, etc.) that meet the demanding size, weight, power and cost needs of our sponsors and applies extensive system design capabilities consisting of modeling, mechanical and electrical design, packaging and development-level testing to realize instrumentation solutions that meet these critical and demanding needs.


Draper has designed and developed microelectronic components and systems going back to the mid-1980s. Our integrated, ultra-high density (iUHD) modules of heterogeneous components feature system functionality in the smallest form factor possible through integration of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology with Draper-developed custom packaging and interconnect technology. Draper continues to pioneer custom Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS), Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) and custom radio frequency components for both commercial (microfluidic platforms organ assist, drug development, etc.) and government (miniaturized data collection, new sensors, Micro-sats, etc.) applications.  Draper features a complete in-house iUHD and MEMS fabrication capability and has existing relationships with many other MEMS and microelectronics fabrication facilities. 

Fault-Tolerant Systems

Draper has developed mission-critical fault-tolerant systems for more than four decades. These systems are deployed in space, air, and undersea platforms that require extremely high reliability to accomplish challenging missions. These solutions incorporate robust hardware and software partitioning to achieve fault detection, identification and reconfiguration. Physical redundancy or multiple, identical designs protect against random hardware failures and employ rigor in evaluating differences in computed results to achieve exact consensus, even in the presence of faults. The latest designs leverage cost-effective, multicore commercial processors to implement software-based redundancy management systems in compact single-board layouts that perform the key timing, communication, synchronization and voting algorithm functions needed to maintain seamless operation after one, two or three arbitrary faults of individual components.

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