17 October 2007

The Arktika Mission involves eight Earth orbiting satellites and provides excellent coverage of the polar areas.

Space technology – a forerunner in Finnish-Russian high-tech cooperation

Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI),  the leading institute carrying out R&D for space technology in Finland, has along decades had close cooperation with various research groups in Russia. Currently,  the Russian Lavoschkin Association (LA),  the Russian Space Research Institute (IKI) and FMI are collaborating to create an Earth observation Mission called Arktika to study the terrestrial atmosphere and the environment as well as a Martian exploration mission.

Historical launching of Sputnik 50 years ago marked the start of the space age. Since the beginnig of 1990s, Russia has also strongly involved international space activities and provided excellent results. Today, Russia plays, for example an important role in building and operations for International Space Station, the mankind's biggest scientific project.

One of Finland's key competencies is wide utilization of earth observation data in operative environmental applications and environmental research.

The current and planned Finnish-Russian space efforts are based on these expertises and long cooperation traditions.

Today, the space exploration, space-based systems and developed tools and techniques have become globally important for monitoring and solving the major problems like climate change.

Crucial support for the polar research

Both Arktika and Martian missions are being developed within the frame of an intergovernmental funding program to convert part of the former Soviet Union's debt to Finland into collaboration projects. In addition to FMI and the Russian space organizations these
development projects also involve companies like Interastro A.V., Jib Systems Ltd. and SpaceTec Inc.

The Arktika Mission is planned to eventually comprise eight Earth orbiting satellites, two satellites on the geostationary orbit, two on the low earth orbit and four on a Molnyia type of orbit to provide excellent coverage of the two polar areas of the Earth.

“The crucial advantage of this approach is to have fulltime coverage of the polar regions that is currently not provided by the geostationary satellites only and provide data in general on the global change, and in particular on the upper tropospheric conditions, cloud coverage, formation and accumulation of ice and snow on the ground and sea, as well as on natural hazards” says Dr. Ari-Matti Harri, Group Manager, Space Technology, FMI.

An exploration mission for Mars

The Martian exploration mission aims at a new kind of planetary exploration mission for Mars - MetNet in situ observation network at

According to Dr. Harri, this mission is based on a new semi-hard landing vehicle called the MetNet Lander (MNL), which is deployed to the Martian surface using inflatable deceleration structures instead of traditional parachutes.  

The immediate goal of this work is to send two MetNet Landers to Mars onboard the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission, which is slated for launch in 2009 - 2011.

These two landers would serve as a science and technology demonstration mission called MetNet Mars Precursor Mission (MMPM) to prove the capabilities of this new landing vehicle.

"The eventual scope of the MetNet Mission is, by the year 2018, to deploy 16 MNLs on the Martian surface using inflatable descent system structures accompanied by an atmospheric sounder and data relay onboard the MetNet Orbiter (MNO).”

Focus to map Mars’ atmosphere

The MNL will have a versatile science payload focused on the atmospheric science of Mars.

Detailed characterisation of the Martian circulation patterns, boundary layer phenomena, and climatological cycles requires simultaneous in-situ meteorological measurements from networks of stations on the Martian surface.

The scientific payload of the MetNet Mission encompasses separate instrument packages for the atmospheric entry and descent phase and for the surface operation phase.

During the descent phase an imager, accelerometers and devices for free flow pressure and temperature observations will be used.

On the Martian surface the MNL will take panoramic pictures, and perform measurements of pressure, temperature, humidity, wind direction and speed with sensor systems accommodated on the deployable sensor boom.

On the deck next to the sensor boom there are an atmospheric optical depth instrument and a LIDAR surveying the surrounding atmospheric dust and other aerosols as well as possible low altitude clouds.

A water detection device and thermal conductivity sensors are attached on the probe that will penetrate the Martian ground during the landing.

“The MetNet mission concept and key probe technologies have been developed and the critical subsystems have been qualified to meet the Martian environmental and functional conditions,” Harri emphasizes.

Advanced entry vehicle developed

The most demanding work of the MetNet Mars Mission, development and qualification of the the new type of Mars entry vehicle, has been performed during the years 2002 - 2004. Prototyping of the payload instrumentation with final dimensions was carried out in 2003-2006.

This huge development effort has been fulfilled in collaboration between the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI), the Russian Lavoschkin Association (LA) and the Russian Space Research Institute (IKI) since August 2001.

Presently a suborbital test launch in 2008 is under preparation to test the descent systems of the MetNet in real-like environment. An ongoing mission planning is under way to send two MetNet Landers to Mars in 2009 - 2011.

"The proposed MetNet Mars Mission in 2018 is going to make use of a satellite platform similar to the Russian Phobos Grunt or ESA's Mars Express satellite platform. Most of the MetNet landers are deployed to Mars separately a few weeks prior to the arrival to Mars to decrease the amount of required fuel for manevers,”  Harri says.

The remaining satellite platform to orbit  Mars

The remaining satellite platform with an atmospheric sounder and a few MetNet Landers onboard will be inserted to an orbit around Mars.

The few MetNet Landers will be deployed to the Martian surface form the orbit around Mars to be able to land on any place at the Martian

"This will also give the mission team the possibility to supplement the observational network on the most rewarding locations based on the first data acquired from the landed MNLs," Harri notes.

The sounder onboard the Orbiter will perform continuous atmospheric soundings thus complementing the accurate in situ observations at the Martian ground produced by the MetNet observation network, as well as the orbiter will serve as the primary data relay between the MetNet Landers and the Earth.

Collaboration reduces costs

The MetNet Mars Mission planned for 2018 is likely to be implemented in collaboration with FMI, LA, IKI and other major space agencies, as well as the payload providing science teams.

The Immaterial Property Rights (IPR) of the entry descent and landing system of the MetNet Landers are of the property of FMI, who will license the IPR for this mission. The LA and IKI would manufacture the entry, descent and landing systems of the MetNet Landers.

”This collaboration would considerably decrease the overall mission costs. Optionally, also the MetNet orbiter that in our proposal for ESA is nominally a derivative of the Mars Express platform, could be replaced by a derivative of the Russian Phobos-Grunt platform.”

”This option would slightly add to the mission complexity but would also further decrease the mission costs. The effects of these mission options are illustrated in the mission financial budgets,” Harri explains.

Observations for manned mission

Dr.Harri says that understandind of the behavior and dynamics of the Martian atmosphere, a wealth of simultaneous in situ observations are needed on varying types of Martian orography, terrain and altitude spanning all latitudes and longitudes.

This enables the investigations of the microscale, mesoscale and large scale atmospheric phenomena, as well as to characterization of the Martian atmospheric circulation patterns and climatological cycles.

These tasks will be performed by the Mars MetNet Mission. In addition to the science aspects the MetNet  Mars Mission will provide a crucial support for the safety of large landing missions in general and manned Mars missions in particular.

Accurate knowledge of atmospheric conditions and weather data is essential to guarantee safe landings of the forthcoming Mars mission
elements. For various operations of manned Mars missions even weather forecasts are needed.

For these mission safety aspects and specific operations a network of observation posts accompanied by atmospheric soundings from the orbit is clearly required. The MetNet Mars Mission is exactly this type of tool that is needed both for the Martian atmospheric science as well as for the mission safety and operations aspects.

The MMM mission proposal is building on the results of many years of hard work and fruitful experience in developing and utilising means to study Mars. By drawing on lessons learned in the course of the Phobos, Mars-96, and the NetLander missions, as well as the earlier ESA Marsnet and InterMarsnet studies.

Benefit for planetary science

Dr. Harri emphasizes that the MetNet -type of mission is what the planetary science in general and the Martian atmospheric science in particular currently needs.

Detailed characterisation of the Martian atmospheric phenomena extending from microscale to large scale domain, as well as the investigations of circulation patterns and climatological cycles are enabled by simultaneous in situ atmospheric observations by Mars MetNet Mission around the surface of Mars.

This type of mission is the logical next mission tool in the field of Martian atmospheric science. The various past and ongoing Martian missions have provided a wealth of observations on individual locations at the Martian surface and remote sensing information provided by orbiting platforms.

"The MetNet Mars Mission will provide the crucial information to the understanding of the dynamics and general behaviour of the Martian atmosphere, as well as it will provide the knowledge of the Martian atmosphere and the weather forecast facility for safe landings of the
forthcoming large Martian landing missions," Harri concludes.

Related article: Finnish remote sensing research stems power form international cooperation

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