Environmental conditions on Mars are uniquely suited to destroying the billions of dollars of scientific equipment we send to study the Red Planet. To better protect our investments, three researchers have built a simulation chamber to assess the resilience of high-tech instruments before they are launched.
The schematics of the chamber, called MARTE, are described in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments. The researchers at Madrid's Center for Astrobiology who designed MARTE say that, while other simulators around the world tend to focus on specific environmental conditions—such as wind speeds or temperature—their chamber is the first to recreate almost all of the Red Planet's variables: temperature, pressure, dust, atmospheric gases, humidity and radiation.
The partially magnetized dust on Mars' surface is among the nastiest culprits in messing up scientific equipment. The planet has just enough atmosphere to blow around the dust, so that layers of the stuff gradually build up on optical systems. MARTE simulates the dust using particles composed mainly of magnetic and nonmagnetic iron oxides.
MARTE will be put to use in the near future, evaluating the Temperature and Wind meteorological station for the InSight mission, due to launch in March 2016.