Mars 2020 Rover set to use pressure and humidity sensors

Louise Smyth

NASA is preparing for the next mission to Mars, timed for a launch in 2020. The Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) is among the partners providing measurement equipment for the new Mars 2020 Rover. The pressure and humidity measurement devices are based on Vaisala’s sensor technology and are similar to the ones already delivered to Mars on the first Curiosity Rover. In addition, the Mars 2020 Rover will carry Vaisala’s newer and more advanced pressure and humidity sensor heads.

The Mars 2020 mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program and it aims to gather more knowledge on the Martian atmosphere and other environmental conditions. The Mars 2020 Rover will be equipped with Barocap and Humicap pressure and humidity sensors. The sensors are part of instrumentation designed by the Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI), and they will be used to gather accurate readings of pressure and humidity in the extreme environmental conditions of the Martian atmosphere.

The new mission equipment will complement the already existing measurement tools on Mars taken there by Curiosity in 2012. While working on Mars, Curiosity and Mars 2020 Rover will create a small-scale observation network that anticipates the extensive MetNet Observation Network planned on Mars for the future.

“We are very proud that our equipment has again been selected as an affiliate for space exploration that will help us understand the world around us. Accurate and reliable measurements are in the core of this understanding. Our strength is exactly that: our sensors function reliably and accurately also in the extreme conditions on Mars,” says Liisa Åström, vice president, Products and Systems, Vaisala.

Sky is no limit

This is not the first or even the second occasion on which Vaisala technology has gone into space. The company has a long history of providing sensors for space explorations, dating all the way back to the 1950s, when it converted the frequency of a radio theodolite to help track Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite. Since then, the company has been involved in a number of fascinating missions, providing technology to help understand the universe.

Since 1992, Vaisala’s carbon dioxide, humidity and temperature sensors have been used to control life science experiments both onboard space shuttle flights and at the International Space Station. Its pressure sensors were also part of NASA’s Cassini mission, which was launched in 1997 and in 2005 achieved the first ever landing on a moon in the outer solar system: Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. This is one of the most ambitious missions ever launched into space and is still ongoing.

The sensor technology is used in space exploration due to its extreme stability, which is vital due to the extreme environmental conditions in space. The sensors are able to withstand extreme heat and cold and are highly tolerant of shaking and vibration of the space travel.

The humidity and pressure measurements are at the company’s core. The Humicap sensor came on the market at the beginning of 1970s, and Barocap followed a few years later.

Both sensor technologies are used in numerous well-known products, such as radiosondes, weather stations and various industrial applications. Thanks to the long-term stability and accuracy of these sensors, as well as their ability to tolerate dust, chemicals and harsh environmental conditions, the technologies are suitable for very demanding applications, also off Earth.

Making observations for a better world

Exploring space fosters innovation and international collaboration and understanding the world around us. Investigating Mars is particularly important, as the planet’s similarities to Earth could help us better understand the challenges we face on Earth, such as climate change.

“Vaisala has an authentic interest to make observations for a better world. By exploring a similar type of planet, we can learn something from ourselves, too,” Åström says. “I believe the whole of mankind is involved in these space crusades with curious minds. To me, Vaisala represents that curiousness.”

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