DREAMS: the Italian weather station that will land on Mars
It weighs only 4 kg and is the size of a shoe box. However, it is able to perform accurate measurements even in the extreme weather typical of the Red Planet. The Italian scientific instrument DREAMS will be the “heart” of the lander that will explore the surface of Mars in the course of the European mission Exomars 2016. The instrument has recently left Italy to France where it will be assembled and tested before departure.
It all began about four years ago when the European Space Agency issued a call to select the scientific instruments for the EDM Schiaparelli lander that will explore the Martian surface during the first European mission to the Red Planet. To win the selection was a jewel of technology called DREAMS (Dust characterization, Risk assessment and Environment Analyser on the Martian Surface), developed by an international collaboration coordinated by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) with an important participation of the national scientific and industrial sector. The Interdepartmental Centre for Space Studies and Activities (CISAS) "G. Colombo" of Padua and the Observatory of Capodimonte of the National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) are in the frontline.
With the size of a shoe box, DREAMS includes a suite of sensors that can detect information on pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, solar radiation, and electric fields even in Martial difficult weather conditions that has a surface temperature ranging between -100 and +27 °C. The instrument will be the “heart” of the Schiaparelli EDM lander named in honour of the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli and will land on Mars during the European mission Exomars.
The arrival at the Red Planet is expected in autumn 2016 when on Mars there will be a strong presence of dust in the atmosphere. This condition will allow DREAMS to verify the possible generation of electric fields, as it happens on the Earth in case of sandstorms. In this perspective, the scientific team of the INAF-Osservatorio di Capodimonte has also carried out tests in the desert of Merzouga, Morocco, during the sandstorm season.
The objectives of the European Exomars mission will be to search for signs of past or present life, to identify potential risks for possible future manned exploration missions, and to characterise the Martian surface through the acquisition of samples from the subsurface. The mission will be divided into two parts: in 2016, a probe will stay in the orbit of Mars in order to investigate the composition of gases in the atmosphere and the Schiaparelli module will land on the surface; in 2018, an innovative rover will land that will be able to penetrate and analyze the subsurface. It will be the first European mission to the Martial surface ever. The Italian industry will be the first contributor to the mission, which is proof of Italy’s excellence in the aerospace industry. (Photos: Credits ESA).