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AAE team wraps up ‘Moons of Mars’ mission concept study

AAE Prof. David Spencer is part of a Purdue team researching the formation of Phobos and Deimos, the moons of Mars.
Purdue Chariot to the Moons of Mars research logo
A Purdue team is researching the formation of the moons of Mars

AAE Prof. David Spencer is part of a Purdue team researching the formation of Phobos and Deimos, the moons of Mars.

The team’s mission concept, “Chariot to the Moons of Mars,” was selected for funding by NASA’s Planetary Science Deep SmallSat Studies (PSDS3) program. Purdue Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences Prof. David Minton is the Principal Investigator for the study, along with other partners including the University of Illinois, Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems, Inc. and Arizona State University.

The six-month concept study, which is wrapping up in December, established an early design for a small satellite mission to determine the origins of Phobos and Deimos. There are competing theories on the formations of the moons, but the instruments used in the proposed mission concept would provide conclusive evidence to enable the determination of the formation process.

"The Chariot mission concept provides a low-cost approach to address a critical question on solar system formation,” Spencer says. “It will also provide information on the resource potential of the moons of Mars with relevance to future human exploration. Phobos may one day serve as a staging area for astronauts, so we want to understand the availability of water and chemicals that could be useful for rocket fuel and life support. Small satellites offer an effective approach to addressing focused science objectives that cannot be achieved by the primary spacecraft in NASA's Mars Exploration Program."

The proposed mission concept will fly a 12-unit CubeSat to Mars and, once in Mars orbit, the Chariot CubeSat will conduct a remote sensing survey of the two moons. The mission will acquire and return science data for one Earth year. Purdue will lead mission operations.

“Through this study, we have advanced the maturity of the mission concept and demonstrated the technical feasibility of the implementation approach. We look forward to proposing it to NASA as a possible flight mission in the future,” Spencer says.