Muscat: Oman’s Mars missions have provided several vital breakthroughs in the field of space research.
Held in the Dhofari desert last February, AMADEE-18, a series of Mars simulation missions organised by the Austrian Space Forum (Oesterreichiches Weltraum Forum or OeWF for short), unveiled several successful prototypes that could be one day used to help land a man on the Red Planet.
“One of the most surprising results would be the good growing-rate of radishes, water cress and salad in the blow-up greenhouse ‘Hortextreme’ of the Italian Space Agency ASI,” said Gernot Gromer, Field Mission Commander of AMADEE-18. “The harvest of the ‘Rambo Radish’ 15 days after planting delivered a surprisingly high harvest. That is one of the best result ever achieved in laboratory conditions, especially when it comes to considering energy efficiency. This would be highly valuable for providing astronauts with fresh food on Mars.”
A host of experiments were conducted in the Omani desert – which is shown to have a similar geological structure to Mars – were conducted by astronauts, engineers and scientists from the OeWF and the European Space Agency, including the development of rovers such as the Husky and ScanMars that could provide 3D mapping of the surface as well as search for deep water deposits.
Other experiments include the introduction of the Fatigue module which monitors astronauts’ wellbeing by analysing their heart rates and tone of voice, field tests of the prototype Aouda spacesuit, and engineering safety protocols that will be followed by Ariane-6, the new generation of rockets for France’s national space programme.
“The Italian ground-penetrating radar ScanMars performed excellently: during the course of analysing the data obtained from a 1.7 km stretch of land, a dried-out riverbed – which had already been covered by sand – was found, based upon 93,617 individual scans,” added Gromer. “If one of these wadis were found on Mars, it would be an important step towards learning more about the water reserves in the Red Planet’s past.
“During the test-drives it became apparent that Husky is already very good at mapping the surrounding landscape and recognizing risk factors such as steep cliffs,” explains Gernot Grömer, who further added, “The uniform desert landscape of Oman has proven to be a challenge; this is an important finding for the scientists working on Husky’s navigational software. With the data from AMADEE-18 the system can be developed further and made ready for Mars.”
The Husky rover was developed by robotics expert Prof Gerald Steinbauer of the Technical University of Graz, where these findings were shared, as well as Michael Stradner, one of his students. Another university student, Michael Muller, used AMADEE-18 to test out his 3D printing prototype, and went so far as to 3D-print a new communications antenna for the Husky.
“This mission was a complete success” stated Müller, team lead of the 3D-print experiment, which was awarded the best student presentation at the prestigious SpaceOPS-conference.
AMADEE-18, which was run in collaboration with the Oman Astronomical Society, united 200 people from 25 nations and 16 different scientific institutions. Gromer was quick to thank members of the State Council, or Majlis Ad Dawla, for spearheading initiatives and fast-tracking the establishment of the desert research camp, which was located on the outskirts of the town of Marmul.
“The Austrian Space Forum highly appreciates the value the Sultanate of Oman puts on science and education,” said Gromer. “We believe that both the industrial base as well as the level of academic education in Oman is a fruitful bases for further engagement in the space sector.”
As a follow-up collaboration, a group of Omani engineering students will be joining the Austrian Space Forum this summer to work on future projects for Mars exploration.