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Spain: Microtechnology Microchips from Spain Will Measure the Wind on Mars

Editor: Alexander Stark

The Micro and Nanotechnology Research Group (MNT) of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – Barcelona Tech (UPC) has participated in developing the wind sensor of the Meda instrument, which will be one of the scientific instruments on board the rover on Nasa’s mission Mars 2020.

This is how the rover that will explore Mars in the Mars 2020 mission will look like.
This is how the rover that will explore Mars in the Mars 2020 mission will look like.
(Source: Nasa / JPL-Caltech)

Barcelona/Spain – The UPC’s Micro- and Nanotechnologies Research Group has participated in the design, manufacture and calibration of the wind sensor of the Meda instrument. Meda will travel to Mars on board Nasa’s Mars 2020 mission to measure wind direction and speed, relative humidity, pressure and properties of suspended dust on the Red Planet. It will be the third time that UPC technology travels to Mars. On this occasion, it is 60 silicon dice that make up the heart of the sensor and that were recently delivered to Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The main objectives of this mission, which is part of Nasa’s Mars Exploration Program, are studying Mars’s habitability, characterising geology and atmospheric dynamics, collecting samples that could be sent to Earth for analysis in future missions and preparing for future human exploration of Mars. The rover introduces a drill that can collect samples from the Martian surface and store them in tubes, so that a future Mars sample-return mission could bring them to Earth for laboratory analysis.

The new sensor, which includes 60 UPC microchips that were recently delivered to Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is an evolution of the wind sensors created previously for the Rems instrument carried by the rover Curiosity (from the Mars Science Laboratory mission) and for the Twins meteorological station (from the Insight mission), which were launched in 2011 and 2018 respectively.

Rems, Twins and Meda were developed by the Spanish Astrobiology Center (of the National Institute of Aerospace Technology and the Spanish National Research Council, INTA-CSIC). The wind sensor on Meda is composed of two cylindrical booms attached to the mast of the Mars 2020 rover. Like the previous Rems and Twins sensors, it obtains wind speed and direction by measuring tangential wind speed in different spots on each boom. Each of these spots has four silicon dice and an additional die to measure air temperature. Tangential wind speeds are calculated by monitoring small changes in the heat transfer of each die to the atmosphere.

The MNT group, linked to the Barcelona School of Telecommunications Engineering (ETSETB), participated in the design and manufacturing of all the sensor versions. More specifically, the 60 silicon dice, which are the heart of the sensor, were manufactured in the Clean Room lab on the UPC’s North Campus in Barcelona. The team of scientists will also participate in the calibration of the sensor and in the future recovery of Martian data, in order to help to improve wind estimation and, therefore, to better analyse atmospheric dynamics.