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We will be able to listen to the first sounds of the planet Mars thanks to the ISAE-SUPAERO microphone on the Perseverance rover

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NASA’s long-awaited Mars 2020 mission will be launched this summer. The “Perseverance” rover it will be carrying will land on the red planet in February 2021 after a voyage of more than 7 months. The different technologies on SuperCam, a sophisticated Franco-American instrument installed on the rover’s mast, will study the planet’s environment. The Mars microphone developed by our researchers is one of the tools on SuperCam and will record the sounds of Mars for the first time!

The Mars 2020 mission: gathering samples of the planet

Between now and mid-August, NASA will take advantage of a launch window to occurs once every 26 months to launch the Atlas V rocket transporting the Mars 2020 mission from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The Perseverance rover will be deployed in early 2021, its main objective being to gather samples of Mars to determine whether there was ever life on the 4th planet of our solar system. Concretely, the rover will study habitability conditions on Mars and will look for traces of past life on the red planet. It will gather samples that will be encapsulated to be brought back to Earth by future missions that are being prepared.

The SuperCam consortium entrusts ISAE-SUPAERO with the development of the microphone for Perseverance

One of the 7 scientific instruments on the Mars 2020 Mission, SuperCam, developed jointly by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL, Los Alamos) and a consortium of French CNRS and university laboratories under the scientific direction of the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie (IRAP, Toulouse) and under the responsibility of CNES, will study the chemistry and mineralogy of rocks and soils on Mars, as well as the composition of its atmosphere.

RoverPerseverance2020
Crédit : NASA/JPL/Caltech

ISAE-SUPAERO, in collaboration with IRAP and with support from CNES, proposed an integrated microphone to NASA to reinforce SuperCam’s optical and electronic components. A team of 5 researchers and engineers from the Space Systems for Planetology & Applications research group (Electronics, Optronics and Signal Processing Department - DEOS) at ISAE-SUPAERO has been working on this project for 5 years. “There have been several attempts at embedding a microphone on a mission to Mars, all unsuccessful, and this is the first time that NASA has chosen one for its scientific value,” said David Mimoun, scientific head of the microphone project.

For the 1st time in the world: listening to the sounds of the planet Mars through the microphone

SuperCam_MARS2020
En rouge, le microphone de l’ISAE-SUPAERO / Crédit NASA/JPL/Caltech

Mars is a very dusty planet, which means the explorer rover has to vaporize rock with a laser to make it visible. The microphone, a retail model specially adapted to withstand the Martian environment, will pursue several original scientific and technical goals:

  • Studying the sound associated with the laser impacts on Martian rocks to better understand their mechanical surface properties.
  • Improving our understanding of atmospheric phenomena such as wind turbulence, dust devils, and the wind’s interactions with the rover itself.
  • Understanding the sound signature of the rover’s different movements, for example operations by the robotic arm and the mast, driving on normal or rough terrain, monitoring pumps, etc.

Picking up sound and analyzing it to advance the atmospheric sciences

Thanks to the calibration performed on Earth in a chamber reproducing “Martian” conditions, the recordings can help determine the characteristics of the different types of materials analyzed by the SuperCam instrument.

Baptiste Chide, post-graduate at ISAE-SUPAERO, was in charge of calibrating the microphone. For this he performed many lab tests in a thermal and atmospheric environment similar to that found on Mars in order to study the noise from the laser’s impact on different kinds of rocks. “Thanks to our collection of reference sounds, we will be able to understand and analyze the sounds obtained,” he said.

Listen carefully in a few months to discover the acoustic atmosphere on Mars!

A SPACE LABORATORY WITH A QUEST FOR EXCELLENCE

ISAE-SUPAERO’s second participation in an international Mars mission after the first successful collaboration with NASA and CNES for our contribution to the design, development and operation of the SEIS seismometer for the InSight mission.

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