Peter Smith of the University of Arizona?s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory heads the Phoenix Mission, in which hundreds of dedicated individuals from around the world are collaborating to explore the arctic plains of Mars.
The Phoenix Mars Scout is set to blast off from Kennedy Space Center aboard a Delta II rocket. The trip to Mars, known as the ?cruise? phase, will take 10 months with the spacecraft traveling at speeds of 26,000 km/h (that works out to ~184 million kilometres!).
Upon reaching Mars, the solar panels that provided power to keep the lander alive in space are jettisoned, and the space craft enters the Martian atmosphere.
A heat shield will use the friction of the atmosphere to slow the space craft to 2,200 km/h, before deploying a parachute that will further slow the descent, until an altitude of 1 km is reached. Finally, the parachute is jettisoned, and steering thrusters safely place the lander on the ground.
Once there, the solar panels and telecommunications antenna will deploy, allowing the lander to survive and communicate with Earth via a series of satellites in both Mars and Earth orbits.
The scientific payload includes a robotic arm to collect samples of the Martian regolith (surface dust), and deliver it to either a wet chemistry suite, known as MECA, or a trace gas analyzer (TEGA). Other instruments include a pair of cameras, Surface stereoscopic imager or SSI, and a separate camera mounted on the robotic arm (RAC). There will also be a descent camera (Mars Descent Imager or MARDI), which will take a series of pictures during descent (see inset image).
The Canadian Space Agency has agreed to supply the Phoenix Lander with a meteorological (or MET) weather station. This includes a pressure sensor, three temperature sensors located along a vertical one-metre mast, and a wind speed and direction sensor (called a Tell-Tale), mounted atop the MET mast. The MET suite of instruments will also include the first extraplanetary lidar system. The lidar will measure the distribution of Martian dust in the atmosphere up to altitudes of 20 km.
Members of the MET Science Team include Dalhousie Faculty member Tom Duck, who is providing input to the instrument design and operation, and model estimates of the data returned by the Phoenix Lidar System by Cameron Dickinson. Matt Coffin, a graduate student at Dalhousie, is working on obtaining the optical properties of the Martian dust as observed using the lidar.