NASA announced that the Scout Mission “Phoenix,” that includes a sophisticated instrumentation package developed by a team of Canadian scientists and engineers, has been selected to go to Mars in 2007. The focus of the Canadian team will be on studies of the Martian atmosphere using laser radar (lidar) technology. Researchers from York University, headed by Dr. Allan Carswell, Professor Emeritus at York and Chairman of Optech Incorporated, will lead the Canadian scientific investigations in collaboration with scientists from several other Canadian universities.This is a wonderful recognition of Canada’s role in atmospheric science and the advancement of lidar technology, said Dr. Carswell. The Canadian weather sensing system will be provided by Brampton, Ontario- based MD Robotics, a subsidiary of MacDonald Dettwiler, supported by the lidar technology of Toronto-based Optech Incorporated.
The announcement, NASA’s selection of the Phoenix team for the Mars 2007 Scout Mission is recognition of Canada’s world renowned technology and leading space science expertise. In June 2008 Phoenix will land a craft on the surface of Mars to search for habitable zones and to study the history of water on Mars. It aims to follow the water and measure “indicator” molecules at high-latitude sites where the earlier Mars Odyssey Mission has discovered evidence of large ice concentrations in the Martian soil. This region is one of the few places on Mars that presents the possibility of the periodic presence of liquid water as orbital dynamics change the regional climate. The Phoenix team will use a robotic arm to excavate a trench and retrieve samples for geological and chemical analysis. Instruments sensitive to minute quantities of organic molecules will enable an assessment of the habitability of the icy layer for microbial life, past and present. The Canadian team will conduct climate studies that will provide information on the present-day environment, including the local water vapor flux in and out of the surface layer. Past climates can be inferred from clues in the trench walls. The Phoenix mission will fly on a lander originally prepared for a mission canceled in 2001. This lander provides a highly reliable means to soft- land on Mars since it includes the capability for guided entry and hazard avoidance using camera and lidar observations.