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MARS-96 project

MARS-96 project

Works on Mars-96 Space Mission were started as far as 1989 as a joint programme implemented by the then USSR, France and other countries. The goal of the Project was to investigate the Mars atmosphere and soil using self-contained space vehicles. Three space vehicles were intended to be used, namely an orbital transport, a Mars rover, and a balloon vehicle. The latter was to stay in the atmosphere.


General Project Pattern. Having descended on parachutes from the orbit, the vehicle releases the Mars rover and stays in the atmosphere, being held by a helium filled balloon. A car is slung beneath the balloon to accommodate the required research equipment; a guiderope georadar hangs down thereon. This georadar is a flexible unit made up of titanium cylinders wherein georadar equipment is located. The photo of journal "La Mission Mars 94-96", April 1993, CNES, France.


In daytime, the guiderope georadar acts as a ballast. In nighttime when the temperature is going down, the vehicle gets down, with the guiderope being dragged by wind across the Mars surface to perform soil sounding. Sounding data are communicated to the orbital vehicle and therefrom to the Earth. The principal task to be solved by the georadar was to give an answer to the question: Is there free water in the Mars soil?


Antarctic ice dome radioscopic survey. Signals were recorded from mainland bedrock down to 1 km deep. Photo of Dr. Alain Herique, ENSIEG/CEPHAG, Grenoble University, France.


The job of our Company's specialists together with French and Russian colleagues was to ensure proper R&D for the guiderope georadar equipment. In 1994, development of this unique georadar was successfully completed. Since then, the georadar underwent extensive testing in France, USA, Russia, Latvia, and Antarctica.


Guiderope georadar tests on Pyla Dune (Bay of Biscay, France). Photo of Dr. Yves Barbin, Institute Service d'Aeronomie, France.


Unfortunately, the Project was unexpectedly canceled in its part related to guiderope georadar use. The reason was the level of the solar activity calculated to cause strong storms on the Mars by the time of equipment delivery, which would have inevitably resulted in georadar breakdown. Therefore, the decision was made that the balloon vehicle should be nondescending even during the nighttime. However, this idea was not implemented either, because during the launch in summer 1996 the carrier rocket failed and dropped in the Pacific Ocean.


Balloon vehicle tests in Mohavia Desert (USA). Photo of D. Ducros - P. Amoyel - F. Catala - Photos: CNES, NASA, Workman Publishing. Acknowledgments to USGS.


The experience and knowledge accumulated through guiderope georadar development have been used as a design basis for PYTHON-01, PYTHON-01M, and PYTHON-02 georadars to be used under the Earth conditions. It's well known that a sounding depth may be increased by reducing the sounding signal frequency, resulting in bigger aerials which are less convenient in use, especially in a forest, stony soil, high grass, and the like. PYTHON Series georadars are unique in that the entire electronics is accommodated inside aerials to facilitate their handling.