Missions to Mars: Mars Sample Return
iMARS stands for “international Mars Architecture for the Return of Samples”. It is an international committee founded under the umbrella of the International Mars Exploration Working Group (IMEWG).
The iMARS-team was created to perform preparatory studies for the Mars Sample Return mission (MSR), and to research the readiness of international partnerships for such an ambitious project. In Phase I, the iMARS-team studied the many challenges and problems and made recommendations to the IMEWG-consortium by means of:
Dr. Didier Moreau from BIRA-IASB was the Belgian representative to IMEWG since 2006 by request of Werner Verschueren (Belgian representative to ESA for exploration), and dr. Frank Daerden replaced him in this function in 2009. Together with dr. Christian Muller, also from BIRA-IASB, they formed the Belgian representation to the iMARS-consortium, whose work NASA recognised with a prestigious award in April 2009: the NASA Group Achievement Award.
Belgium and a brief history of Mars research
BIRA-IASB and the Belgian Space Research authorities have long shown interest and actively participated in the space-based exploration of mars and in atmospheric science. BIRA-IASB was involved in Mars-missions PHOBOS (USSR, 1988) and Mars 96 (USSR, 1996, failed after launch), and has been working for the last 5 years in the ongoing ESA-mission Mars Express, via the Belgo-French instrument SPICAM.
BIRA-IASB scientists develop and use research tools to analyse the measured data and to simulate the Mars atmosphere using large supercomputers. Dr. Daerden used such computer models for example in the analysis of data from the 2008 NASA Phoenix-mission to Mars. Belgium is also a significant contributor to the ESA/NASA ExoMars-mission, to be launched in 2016. Their representation in iMARS emphasises Belgian interest in advanced Mars research and exploration.