ASI and Mars Exploration

Mars Exploration  

The Italian agency is fully committed!

by Luisa Spairani


The interest of the international scientific community in the field of the planetary search currently is aimed at the Mars exploration.

NASA planned activities: NASA has begun with succeeding its Decennale Program with the Mars Pathfinder and the  Mars Global Surveyor and has as soon as given beginning to the Mars Surveyor ' 98 with the launch of the Mars Climate Orbiter (3 Decembers ' 98) and the Mars Polar Lander(3 January 1999); the American commitment  will then continue with the mission Mars 2001 Surveyor and one series of  launch about every 18 months until the end of the 2004. The Mars Climate Observer lost behind Mars, happened to the end of 99 September has not substantially changed the program.

Italy is considered partner to full title from NASA in the missions that will bring back the samples of the Martian ground on the Earth in 2003-2005 (NASA Sample Return Programme). The ASI will supply in fact an integrated system, composed from a robotic arm,  a driller and one series of scientific instruments for the analysis in situ of the gathered samples.   

ESA planned activities: ESA has approved of November 1998 the mission Mars Express that in the June of the 2003 will carry in the space an orbiter and lander cargoes of scientific instruments. 

The Italian community thinks strategic the participation to this first international plan of Mars's exploration. Such participation is articulated on two main projects, strongly connected.

ASI planned activities: Italy will participate in a significant way  with   the development of the scientific instrumentation on board  of the mission Mars Express, and even with the development of  the system of telecommunications between the satellite and the stations on the Mars surface. As a result of these agreements the mission has become one combined mission ASI/ESA (greater information on page ASI of Mars Express). 

The aim of  the  Mars Express  mission is the exploration of the atmosphere and surface of Mars. The satellite that will enter in the Mars orbit in December 2003, will have on board some of the instruments developed and realized for the unlucky Russian mission Mars '96. In addition it will have a new instrumentation and a new telecommunications system that will be in charge to communicate   with the probes that in 2003/2007 will reach the Mars surface.


Launch date June 2003
Mission end  2007/2008
Scope Mars Exploration
Agency ESA and ASI
WEB Site



The Italian participation to the mission is significant, so that has been called a combined mission ESA/ASI.  Two of the six instruments on board of the  satellite  are driven from  Italian Principal Investigators:

  • the Subsurface Sounding Radar (SSRA) , whose main scope is to obtain a map of the water distribution, where water  is in a liquid state or in a solid state  or is   included in the underground of Mars (permafrost),   until the depth of some kilometers.

Moreover Italian Co-Investigators  are present   on OMEGA (the visible channel is developed  and realized from the IFSI/CNR), ASPERA and HRSC. 

The ASI is also directly responsible of the Mars Relay System- MARESS, that it will concur with the probes and the present stations on the Mars surface to communicate with MARS EXPRESS and therefore with the Earth. MARESS has moreover the task to characterize the canister of the Mars Ascent Vehicle, in orbits around Mars  and will permit to bring back samples from Martian ground.

The Italian community interested and committed to the study of the Mars planet, subdivided in its  scientific, technological and industrial components,  has carried out and continues a wide  and  deepened debate on the perspectives of Italian participation to the short Martian exploration in, medium and long term organizing specific workshops.

The arguments during the Workshop of the ' 98 have been articulated in the five subgroups " Science in remote sensing ", " international Science in situ ", " Science and technology ", " Esobiology ", " Programs in the long term and collaborations ".

Hereafter the synthesis of the main  reccomendations:

  • to  have a pre-defined budget so that  ASI can assume  a commitment for a long term activity. This budget should give a real opportunity to participate to Mars's exploration;
  • to pursue the opportunities of collaboration in missions inhabited on Mars, for the strong scientific and technological interest and for the possibility of the  usage of the competencies matured in Italy in the afferent disciplines;
  • to predispose, to the aim to obtain the maximum turned out in terms is scientific that of image from the Italian participation to the Mars exploration, a laboratory in Italy in a position to international point of reference for the analysis of the brought back samples to earth estensibile  to analogous missions from other  bodies of the solar system;
  • to develop a technological program in preparation and support of the Italian scientific participation to the Mars exploration on the mean and long period;
  • to emit " call for proposals " for a scientific usage  from part of the Italian scientists on " landers " NASA in the 2003 and the 2005;
  • to use the Program of exploration of Mars and the relative Italian participation of along period like plan pilot for a massive program of formation and spreading, whose   participation's plan is defined from an interdisciplinary Working Group guided from the ASI;
  • to  create an interdisciplinary  Working Group composed of representatives of science, the technology and the industry to the aim to follow and to stimulate the development of the national activity time to the Mars exploration;
  • to  promote  events  that highlight  the state of the participation Italian to the international program of the Mars exploration, by means of the organization of a Workshop anniversary that will constitute a moment of verification between ASI   and  the international community.

 As result  of the thematic groups, moreover the following recommendations  are emerged:

  • to upgrade the able laboratories to characterize the brought back sample to earth from Mars, and to predispose the availability of " test beds " for the validation of equipments and scientific apparatuses, simulating the existing conditions on Mars. In particular for the deep driller profit is thought to equip the base of Matera;  
  • The maximum  use of a series of instruments, to use to the ground, that for their degree of maturity and development luminescence UV, atmospheric measures, mineralogy IR, panoramic spectrometry, thermal measures and of conductivity, elementary powder flows, abundances, could be already available for opportunity 2003 ;
  • to develop and to study the feasibility of instruments that could be taken in consideration for opportunities 2005 and beyond;
  • to support the use of instruments for the remote ones sensing, on which Italy has already experience and that they will come ulteriorly perfected for the mission Mars Express (spectrometry to visible image and IR, spectrometry in the mean and far away IR, sub-superficial radar to high resolution, neutral energetic atom detector for imaging of the esosphere);
  • to focus the Italian contribution for the remote ones sensing in the attainment of strategic objective following: morphologic mapping and mineralogical premises,  detailed superficial exploration of sites at  high priority, atmosphere   interactions - surface and atmosphere - half interplanetary, atmospheric circulation and Martian climate;
  • to activate initiative to solicit the participation of researchers for esobiology programs;
  • to develop systems with technology ready or nearly ready, useful in order to support the Italian participation to opportunities 2003-2005 (deep driller, robotic arm of service, independent laboratory of analysis), with the reccomandation to simplify to the maximum the systems more using however the advanced technologies;
  • to take in consideration some interesting proposals of finalized technological development to the Martian exploration to medium-long term (miniaturization, rover to legs and jumpers, aerobot) and  inflatable and autostackable structures for the permanence of the man in the space; 
  • to use the national competencies already developed in previous missions in microgravity for applications to the human missions on Mars;
  • to predispose one list of Italian scientists available to being inserted in the several sciences present teams of NASA  if an opportunity exists;
  • to study various options for one possible stable infrastructure of telecommunications for Mars.

 Reccomandation from the working group: " ESOBIOLOGY"

ASI support  has concurred one constant and important Italian scientific presence in the several missions of planetary exploration. The increase of the planetology and planetary geology is accompanied to a parallel technological development, with meaningful  industrial revenues. This reality is   explicitly recognized from NASA as far as the robotics and the technologies of drilling. The  scientific components linked to the field of Sciences of the Life have developed one equally meaningful position in the study of the influences of the space atmosphere on the several known shapes of life. Experiments with Italian P.I. are, in this field, constantly accommodated on programmed Shuttle flights or nowadays  for the Space Station. ESA and NASA are  emphasizing the role of esobiologic searches in the within of the Mars Exploration. The rich programming, in the next decade, of having missions the declared purpose to search the existence of traces of shapes of life  on Mars finds an involvment from Italian planetology and planetary geology but itis clearly insufficient or inexistent the involvment of biological competencies (biophysics, biochemic, microbiology, cellular biology, evolutionary biology , archeobiology,...).

The esobiology represents one new area of search connoted from an elevated rate interdisciplinarity. It is not a case that  NASA   has recently activated a Institute of Astrobiology with the explicit attempt to stimulate and to coordinate the participation of various competencies to esobiology plans. The modest involvement of the scientific biological member of the national community in the esobiology plans risks to heavy disable the participation of Italian science to the Mars exploration. This deficit would be serious for the experiments in situ, but perhaps still  more  meaningful in case of the Italian participation to the analysis at its labs of  the Martian sample .

Reccomandation from the working group: " PROGRAMS IN THE LONG TERM AND COLLABORATIONS "

The national community thinks strategic for the Country the Italian participation to the international Program of exploration of Mars, like moreover already previewed from the National Space Plan in vigor.

How much already made from the ASI in order to assure one is thought in fact of extreme validity qualified scientific participation and industrial to the missions planned from the ESA and NASA for opportunities 2003 and 2005,   in perfect coherence with the assumed strategic indications to the base of the aforesaid PSN. Moreover, Italy can count on the acquired abilities in order to support the interest to participate to all the phases of the Mars exploration, included the inhabited missions.

Therefore it is necessary:

1. To be able to count on a predetermined budget that it concurs with the ASI to take engagements on along period, assuring to the scientific community the maintenance of the real opportunity of participation to the Mars exploration;

2. To develop to a technological long -term program in preparation and support of the Italian scientific participation to the Mars exploration ;

3. To predispose, to the aim to obtain the maximum turned out in terms is scientific that of image from the Italian participation to the Mars exploration, a laboratory in Italy in a position to international point of reference for the analysis of the   samples brought back to earth, extensible a  analogous missions from other bodies of the solar system;

4. To pursue the opportunities of collaboration in missions inhabited on Mars for the strong scientific and technological interest and for the possibility of using  the competences matured in Italy in the afferent disciplines

5. To use the Program of exploration of Mars and the correspective  Italian participation as a pilot project for a huge training and educational program.


From ASI still does not have news of the result of last workshop held in  Rome 8-9 September 99.

International workshop "The Italian role and perspectives for the Exploration of Mars" "Pantelleria in Rome"

Hereafter  the dealt arguments are listed. One complete relation on this workshop will be made available in the next numbers of this review.

  • Automatic Mars Exploration
  • IPSE: System Description
  • DeeDri: System Description
  • The Rosetta Drill as a Precursor to Mars
  • Italian Contribution to the Proximity Link
  • Mars Sample Return Architecture
  • Italian Payload for Mars 2003: the Scientific Rationale
  • Proposal for Payload Selection for IPSE and DeeDrill
  • Mars Exploration: the Future
  • MARS2: MARS Center for Mars Mission
  • Micromissions
  • MARSIS: The Mars Express Radar
  • PFS: Planetary Fourier Spectrometer
  • OMEGA-VIMS: the Italian Contribution
  • ASPERA: the Italian Contribution
  • Cosmic Ray Surveyor in the Earth-Mars Travel (C.R.E.A.M. Surveryor)
  • IPSE: Payload Accomodation
  • DeeDri: Science Accomodation



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