Oman’s ‘Mars’ mission to launch soon
January 16, 2018 | 9:51 PM
by Gautam Viswanathan, [email protected]
The rugged landscape of Marmul and its surrounding areas serve as a perfect replica of the red planet on Earth, and scientist from the Austrian Space Forum and elsewhere, will conduct experiments to test the viability of the technology and gear that will ultimately be used on a future mission. Photo–Supplied

Muscat: Oman’s Mars simulation mission is currently in its final stages of preparation, before operations begin in the Sultanate on February 1.

Called AMADEE-18 and spearheaded by the Austrian Space Forum (OeWF, or the Oesterreiches Weltraum Forum), the mission will take place in the town of Marmul, some 250km from Salalah, the capital of the Dhofar Governorate.

The rugged landscape of Marmul and its surrounding areas serve as a perfect replica of the Red Planet on Earth, and the OeWF, along with a host of other scientists and researchers from over 25 nations, will conduct 19 experiments to test the viability of the technology and gear that will ultimately be used on a mission to Mars in the future.

The scientists and researchers, who will be travelling to Oman, are currently undergoing a series of training exercises at the OeWF headquarters in Innsbruck, Austria, and the equipment they will be using in the Sultanate will be shipped the moment these exercises are completed.

“The training will be in Austria,” stated Monika Fischer, media team lead at the OeWF. “The chosen experiments and the scientists who developed them will come to Innsbruck to train the field crew and the analogue astronauts on how to use the equipment.

“This will also be the deadline for the scientists to demonstrate that their equipment is fit for the mission, meaning that it has been built to withstand the anticipated temperatures, the sun and the sand of the desert,” she added.

“After the training weekend, they will leave the equipment with us to be shipped to Oman.”

Many experiments will be conducted in Oman, including the testing of the OeWF’s new Aouda spacesuit, the feasibility of the Husky autonomous rover that supports astronauts and aids in area mapping, the FATIGUE system from the Medical University of Vienna to analyse mental and physical fatigue in astronauts, the EOS radio navigation system, and the Avi-Nav drone, which will be used for efficient area exploration.

Another vehicle that will undergo testing is the TumbleWeed rover, a wind-propelled vehicle to be used for efficient exploration. Two Omani high-school students will pilot another vehicle, which will search for sources of water through the reflection of ultrasonic waves.

In addition, the Italian Space Agency will test its Hortextreme structure, a mobile and inflatable greenhouse that runs on hydroponics, to aid in the cultivation of vegetables on Mars, as well as its new field spectrometry system to analyse the quality of sunshine and the intensity of light on the Red Planet.

Computer programmes that analyse verbal communication to study the psychological and physical stresses astronauts undergo will also be tested. The University of Perugia will be using AMADEE-18 to test its ScanMars programme, which is able to take 2D and 3D scans of the Martian surface.

The Western University in Canada will also use the Mars analogue mission as a dry run for its TEAM communications system, which monitors fluctuations in performance, team cohesion, and personality and conflict over time.

The University of Witten Herdecke in Germany will be testing its SIT-AS messaging system to check for efficiency in communication between the teams out in the field and their colleagues back at headquarters.

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