On the first day of Dublin Tech Summit I had the pleasure of meeting Jordan Evans shortly after he did his talk “Lessons from Mars and Beyond: The Creativity and Culture of Robotic Deep Space Exploration”

I have been following the Mars Curiosity Mission but had never heard about the Star Shade that was mentioned in his talk so chose this opportunity to ask him about it….

Thanks for speaking with us today Jordan, I was very interested to hear about the Star Shade concept, can you tell us anymore about it?

It was seen as a fantastic solution to blocking out the light of a star in order to see exo-planets around it.  The intent is to treat it like an eclipse to handle the defraction, so when you look through the telescope you can see the planets around the star.

Is there any truth to the measurement technique whereby Scientists are looking for a “wobble” of a star as the planets go round it and pulling on it?

The “wobble” is actually a change in the intensity in light which is called the transit method. We’re not really looking for “life” we are looking for the presence of a planet on a regular orbit. The orbit going past the planet makes it look like its wobbling but its more a visible wobble rather than a physical one.  We have used this method to identify thousands of planets and now the next step is to actually see those planets directly.

During your presentation you mentioned that there was a mission to Mars where you are hoping to bring back samples from the surface.  When do you think this will happen?

It’s large scale event that will require multiple missions but Mars 2020 will actually be bringing back samples from the surface.   We are in conversations across the agencies and with the European Space Agency and partners on putting together a Mars Sample Return architecture.  So the rover will collect the samples, you then have to have the lander that grabs them and puts them on a rocket and get off the surface of Mars.

Will this be all be Artificial Intelligence? Or maybe Remote Control?

Because Mars and Earth are so far apart from each other, we can’t drive it like a joystick.  The one way light time is any where from 4 to 22 minutes so you would send a signal and wait 22 minutes for the Rover to move and then you would have to wait another 22 minutes to see on the camera exactly how much it had moved.  So instead we send it a set of commands for the day; like wake up at 7am and do this and move that rock and ask it to send data to the Mars orbiter as its flys over at 3pm and then go to sleep and wait for your next days commands.  So its rather a sequence of commands and less AI as there really isn’t a lot of decision making needed at this time.  The main we want to do at this time is keep these vehicles safe.  There are so many unknowns between the terrain and the planet so if something went wrong it would automatically stop and call home.  It has a direct-to-Earth capability and knows where to find us at all times which makes notifying us much faster.

The Mars orbiters also goes over periodically as well from NASA and the European Space Agency – they all have orbiters doing their own research but as a space-faring world we have made the agreement to carry a radio that can talk to the rovers and this in turn aids information being returned speedily and worked upon.

These same orbiters also relay images of the surface and are put up on the internet for the publics consumption.

There has been Public finds before of quite acclaim hasn’t there?

Absolutely, it’s not always leading edge scientists with top of the range equipment that make our most discoveries.  This is why we open up our research and place it online.

(Worth viewing wwwplanethunters.org if you are interested)

You mentioned that there was going to be missions to Europa, when is that going to happen?

One mission is in development and the other is in the planning stages.  One mission is called Europa Clipper.  This is because rather than orbiting it, it will be clipping off it instead.  This is because the radiation environment is really really harsh around Europa! It’s safer for it to orbit Jupiter instead.  Its going to do 18 close passes by Europa over a period of years and it will be outfitted with a bunch of instruments like ground penetrative radar and thengs like that.

We are also doing directed studies on a Europa Lander.  So we are designing a lander that can go to the surface near one of these fissures where water is coming up from.  Below this is what could be 30 miles think ice but once you’re down there its all liquid ocean.

It’s widely thought by scientists that if there is life elsewhere in the universe Europa’s the most likely candidate.

Earlier on this year myself and my family visited the Planetarium in Armagh, Northern Ireland and we watched a video there that showed a method of mining meteors/asteroids for their materials.  This would be used to power ships from Mars back to Earth.  Currently a trip to Mars would be one way because we couldn’t carry enough fuel to return.  Is this feasible?

Yes we have found that the dust floating around Mars has 2% molecular H20 bonded to it.  You could see taking that material or the ice caps and converting into some form of a fuel that could be used.

So it’s true?

Yes, we can look to develop habitats using this soil and actually laser melting into it.  We are also looking at creating oxygen from this as well and Mars 2020 will incorporate MOXIE that will be looking at testing this.

Crumbs…

If you would like to learn more about this mission then please follow Mars 2020 over the coming 2 years.

 

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