Spain's Rover Environmental Monitoring Station fitted to Curiosity at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Photo Credit/NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Cal Tech
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory has been equipped with the first Spanish science instrument destined for the Red Planet, a compact weather station.
The three pound Rover Environmental Monitoring Station will provide hourly weather reports as part of MSL's $2.3 billion mission to determine whether conditions on Mars are or were suitable for microbial life.
Spain's 40-member science and engineering team plans to post their daily weather reports online.
REMS, which was furnished by Spain's Ministry of Science and Innovation and the Center for Industrial Technology Development, was installed on the SUV-sized rover at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in September and is currently undergoing pre-launch evaluation.
MSL, which was has been re-named Curiosity, is headed for launch between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18, 2011. The August 2012 landing will feature the first use of a planetary sky crane. After plunging into the atmosphere and descending by parachute, the spacecraft will hover using descent rockets while lowering the nearly-one ton rover to the surface by tether.
Curiosity lowers to the Martian surface using sky crane. Image credit/NASA, JPL
The six-wheeled rover is designed to cover from three to 12 miles on the Martian terrain.
REMS is equipped to make the first Martian ground measurements of ultraviolet radiation as well as log wind velocity and direction, air pressure, temperature and humidity readings.
Scientists expect to correlate the UV readings with those gathered from Martian orbit by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The Spanish instrumentation will also focus on the exchange of water vapor between the atmosphere and the Martian soil, which with the UV readings could furnish key clues about the planet's suitability for biological activity.
Temperatures may vary from more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit below zero to as much as 80 degrees above on the warmest days.
Over the long Martian year, 687 Earth days, REMS will monitor changes in the planet's thin carbon dioxide atmosphere. Much of the CO2 freezes and falls to the ground, forming polar ice caps during winters in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. In spring, the melting ice returns to the atmosphere.