Mars Express. Image Courtesy of ESA
The European Commission has awarded over €2 million of grant funding to UPWARDS – a cutting-edge project for global understanding of Mars. The project involves seven scientific institutions from across Europe, including The Open University (OU), working together to develop new analytical techniques to exploit the Mars Express and the future ExoMars missions.
The new tools generated by the UPWARDS project will make it possible not only to obtain more information from the data that we possess about the red planet, but will also be fundamental in the review of the evidence gathered by the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) mission, whose launch is planned by the European Space Agency for January 2016. Likewise, the intensive work being carried out by this multidisciplinary consortium will serve to create a scientific framework of reference within which to prepare both the ExoMars Rover operation, planned for 2018, and future missions to Mars.
“A common strategy in the analysis of space exploration data is to leave the task in the hands of the same laboratory that developed the instruments, making it an isolated process. UPWARDS is a pioneer in the creation of multidisciplinary groups for the coordinated analysis of the information gathered on a space mission prior to its launch”, explains Miguel Ángel López Valverde, the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (IAA-CSIC) researcher who is overall lead on the project.
The synergy between the different teams and their work on the disperse data about Mars will be especially valuable for another of the great challenges of UPWARDS: to describe and understand the problem of water on the red planet. The presence of water vapour, clouds, frozen surfaces and seasonal variations indicate an active Martian water cycle. “It is very important to understand this in order to understand not only the current climate of the planet, but also the strong influence that it has had over millions of years on Martian geology, as well as the environmental conditions and the prospects of habitability”, explains François Forget, a researcher at the French National Scientific Research Centre (CNRS) and a member of the project.
All of the members of the consortium have ample, recognised experience in the analysis of data from space missions and many of the scientists have been key players in the preparation of the Mars Express mission, successfully launched in 2003. “Cooperation between these institutions in a single project places UPWARDS at the forefront of Martian research in Europe and allows the European Union to maximise the resources devoted to learning more about our neighbouring planet”, says López Valverde.
Notes to Editors
The UPWARDS consortium is composed of the Higher Scientific Research Council (CSIC, Spain); the Open University (OU, United Kingdom); Institut d’Aéronomie Spatiale de Belgique (IASB, Belgium); Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS, France); Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF, Italy); Koninklijke Sterrenwacht van Belgie (ORB, Belgium) and the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM, Spain).