Design Engineering

ABB Canada on the way to Mars

By DE staff   

General Canadian Space Agency satellite

Quebec-based company to supply component to "sniff out" life on Mars.

Artist’s impression of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter.
Photo credit: ESA

Power and automation company, ABB Canada, has been selected by the Canadian Space Agency to develop a main component on a satellite that will be launched in 2016 to the planet Mars.


ABB is supporting the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) by supplying a spatial interferometer that will constitute the main part of an instrument in the satellite that will probe the atmosphere of Mars in search of biological sources of methane, and consequently, signs of life. The instrument, known as MATMOS (Mars Atmospheric Trace Molecule Occultation Spectrometer), is a partnership between the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the CSA and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

MATMOS has been selected by NASA and the European Space Agency for launch on board the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, slated for launch in 2016. Its destination will be to orbit around the red planet.

The first objective of the mission is to characterize the chemical composition of the Mars atmosphere. The spectrometer, which contains the interferometer designed and built by ABB, will detect methane molecules and trace them in the Mars atmosphere. It will be able to measure the distribution of methane and determine the type (biological or geological) and will also measure other trace gases. According to the company, MATMOS spectrometer will be capable of detecting concentrations of methane down to parts per trillion.

The development of the interferometer in MATMOS was inspired by the ABB-built payload supplied to the Canadian Space Agency in their ACE/SciSat-1 satellite. This satellite has been in orbit for more than seven years and its performance has exceeded the expectations of the scientific community.


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