Space agencies call for ideas

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Anything you'd like to know about the atmosphere on Mars? ESA and NASA are inviting scientists from across the world to propose instruments for their joint Mars mission, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter.

Scheduled for launch in 2016, the spacecraft will focus on the constituents of the Martian atmosphere - including the methane that could signal the presence of life.
 
The two space agencies are today issuing an Announcement of Opportunity inviting scientists to propose instruments to be carried on the mission. Once the proposals have been evaluated, the winning teams will build the actual hardware.

A Joint Instrument Definition Team has drawn up a model payload based on current technology, but wants help turning that blueprint into reality. "We are open to all instrumental proposals so long as they help us achieve our scientific objectives," says Jorge Vago, ESA ExoMars Project Scientist. 

Of course, one Martian gas in particular is attracting attention: methane. And it's a major priority to work out whether this comes from life, or from geological and volcanic processes. “The methane is the anchor point around which the science is to be constructed,” says Vago.

The scientists are particularly keen to find out why methane is concentrated in just three locations on Mars, and why it disappears so quickly from the atmosphere.

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