Queen's Gazette | Queen's University

Search form

Ready to rove on Mars

Queen's post-doctoral fellow Brian Lynch operates the Mars Exploration Science Rover at Canadian Space Agency headquarters in Saint-Hubert, Que. Photo courtesy Canadian Space Agency

By Andrew Carroll, Gazette editor

A Queen’s researcher is getting a taste of what it is like to be part of a Mars Rover mission.

Postdoctoral fellow Brian Lynch is the lone Queen’s representative on a team of students, primarily from Western University, taking part in the simulated mission, in partnership with the Canadian Space Agency, replicating as many aspects of a real space exploration mission as possible.

Over a period of two weeks, the team is remotely operating the Mars Exploration Science Rover (MESR) on an analogue (substitute) Martian terrain at the John H. Chapman Space Centre in Saint-Hubert, Que. The aim of the mission is to collect rock and soil samples to be returned to Earth.

The aim of the program, however, is to get hands-on training for students working on planetary exploration.

Dr. Lynch explains that researchers at Western's Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX) act as “mission control” and make decisions about what kind of scientific operations will be conducted, including taking images, laser scans and core samples. After confirming with the engineering team if the plans are feasible, operations are then carried out and the results are uploaded for the science team at the end of the day.

This matches how a real Mars mission unfolds as the delay in radio transmission over such a great distance means live control is impossible.

Dr. Lynch himself is heading up the rover team that helps perform operations and acts as a stand-in for particular science instruments that are not currently installed on the rover.

“Working on this Mars analogue mission with the Canadian Space Agency has been a great experience and has helped me develop important skills,” he says. “Space exploration is a passion of mine and I am looking forward to applying this knowledge in future deployments on Earth as well as real missions to the moon, Mars, and other interesting places in our solar system.”

The Mars Rover is a six-wheeled vehicle with a robotic arm equipped with a microscope and mini-corer to drill into rocks, take samples and perform analysis of rocks. It also can produce 3D maps of the terrain.

Back on the ground at Queen’s, Dr. Lynch is part of the Mining Systems Laboratory, headed up by Joshua Marshall. The multidisciplinary lab, based in mining engineering but also associated with mechanical and electrical and computer engineering, focuses on robotic mining and planetary exploration and development technologies.

Called Technologies and Techniques for Earth and Space Exploration the mission is part of a Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) program, funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).