NASA and European Space Agency visit Leicester for Mars workshop

Artist's rendition of NASA's Mars 2020 rover studying a Mars rock outcrop

Image and caption credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Leading global group of planetary scientists attended three-day space sample workshop at the University.

Planetary scientists from across the globe, including representatives from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA and European Space Agency, visited the University of Leicester last week for a Mars Sample Return workshop.

It was the second meeting of the Mars Sample Planning Group, which is organised under the auspices of NASA and ESA in order to plan sample analyses and contamination controls.

The workshop, which ran from Wednesday 1 May to Friday 3 May, was organised by Professor John Bridges, Professor of Planetary Science and John Holt, Research Engineer, both of the Space Research Centre within the University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

In this meeting they discussed technology – including that being developed at Leicester’s Space Research Centre – which can allow for examination of the drill core samples which will return with NASA’s Mars 2020 rover while still accommodating stringent planetary protection and cleanliness requirements.

The Mars 2020 rover is set to drill 500g of mudstone samples when it reaches its landing site in an ancient delta in Mars’s Jezero Crater in 2021. The samples will subsequently be returned with a follow-up mission in 2026.

Mars 2020’s sample collection activities follow the discovery of organics within the rocks of Mars’s Gale Crater by the Mars Science Laboratory, a probe mission launched by NASA in 2011.