The Maple Leaf Returns to Mars
Canadian science instrument launches on board National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Mars Science Laboratory (MSL)
Longueuil, Quebec, November 26, 2011 — The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is Mars bound once again with the launch of NASA's MSL from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 10:02 a.m. Eastern. The mission carries a Canadian science instrument known as the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), which will probe the chemistry of rocks and soils on Mars to help determine if the Red Planet ever was, or could still be today, an environment able to support microbial life.
"Canada's contribution to this mission is a tremendous showcase of technological innovation," said the Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of Industry and Minister responsible for the CSA. "Thanks to our skilled scientists, Canadian science and space technology is once again moving beyond the bounds of Earth's orbit, to the frontiers of international space exploration."
The size of a small car, MSL's rover—named Curiosity—is a mobile geology lab equipped with the largest, most advanced suite of science instruments ever to land on Mars. Curiosity will analyze samples on site to determine whether Mars was ever a habitable planet, characterize the climate and geology of Mars, and pave the way for human exploration. APXS is one of 10 science instruments on Curiosity. It will determine the chemical composition of Martian rocks and soil samples to establish their geological history, identify possible alterations by water and perform sample triage for the on-board laboratory instruments. It will be used regularly throughout the mission, which is planned to last one full Martian year (687 Earth days).
An improved version of the instruments on Pathfinder, Spirit, and Opportunity, this latest version of APXS was developed specifically for MSL under the scientific leadership of Dr. Ralf Gellert of the University of Guelph, Principal Investigator for APXS. Dr. Gellert also heads the APXS science team, which is composed of members from the University of Guelph, the University of New Brunswick, the University of Western Ontario, NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) (a division of Caltech), the University of California, San Diego, Cornell University and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
The Canadian Space Agency is investing $17.8 million in the design, building, primary operations and scientific support of APXS. The CSA managed the development and building of the instrument with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) as the prime contractor for APXS. The University of Guelph provided the scientific direction for the design and engineering support during the development, calibrated the APXS instrument and will lead the science operations for the instrument. Components of APXS were tested in Brampton, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto and Guelph.
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