Vacuum Chamber Mimics Surface of Mars

Mar 26, 2014 10:15 AM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

A vacuum chamber built by Spanish researchers imitates the surface of Mars from pressure to temperature to Martian dust.

Constructed to test equipment for future Mars missions, the simulation chamber mimics the pressure, gas composition and radiation in the Martian atmosphere, the AFP reported.

The chamber cost $200,000 and took a year to build, according to The Verge. Two things the fake Martian atmosphere can't reproduce are the Red Planet's gravity, which is lower than Earth's, and the planet's volume. But the chamber is still useful for testing instruments.

The fake Martian dust is especially important.

"We're simulating the effect of the Martian dust--one of the primary problems for planetary exploration--to gain a better understanding of how instruments behave when covered in dust," said Jesus Sobrado, who led the machine's technical development, as quoted by the AFP.

The researchers published their findings on Tuesday in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments.

Scientists are drawn to the Red Planet in part because the planet could have been capable of supporting life in the past.

"Mars is a good place to learn about planets similar to ours and, as such, is the target of many NASA and European Space Agency missions," explained lead researcher Jose Angel Martin-Gago, of Madrid's Instituto de Ciencias de Materiales, as reported by the AFP.

The Spanish research team has partnered with NASA, mostly working together on meteorological instruments to use in future rovers.

The Mars Curiosity rover has already benefited from the simulation chamber, which was used while developing some of the rover's weather sensors.

The team has also developed vacuum chambers that imitate the atmospheres of other planets; Jupiter's icy moon, Europa; the space between stars; and the space between planets.

Such simulation chambers "answer many questions about Mars or other related planetary bodies--both from scientific and technology points of view,"  said Sobrado, as quoted by the AFP.

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