MaRS: Mars Radio Science
The Mars Radio Science experiment (MaRS) will perform the following experiments:
- Radio sounding of the neutral Martian atmosphere (occultation experiment) to derive vertical density, pressure and temperature profiles as a function of height, with a height resolution better than 100 meters.
- Radio sounding of the ionosphere (occultation experiment) to derive vertical ionospheric electron density profiles and to derive a description of the global behaviour of the Martian ionosphere through its diurnal and seasonal variations depending also on solar wind conditions.
- Determination of dielectric and scattering properties of the Martian surface in specific target areas by a means of a bistatic radar experiment.
- Measurement of gravity anomalies in conjunction with simultaneous observations using the High Resolution Stereo Camera to construct a three-dimensional topographical model for the investigation of the structure and evolution of the Martian crust and lithosphere.
- Precise determination of the mass of the moon Phobos.
- Radio sounding of the solar corona during the superior conjunction of the planet Mars with the Sun.
The spacecraft Telemetry, Tracking and Command (TT&C) radio links between the orbiter and the Earth will be used for these investigations. A simultaneous and coherent dual-frequency downlink at X-band and S-band via the High Gain Antenna (HGA) is required to separate the contributions from the classical Doppler shift and the dispersive media effects caused by the motion of the spacecraft with respect to the Earth and the propagation of the signals through the dispersive media.
The experiment relies on the observation of the phase, amplitude, polarisation and propagation times of radio signals transmitted from the spacecraft and received at ground station antennas on Earth. The radio signals are affected by the medium through which the signals propagate (atmospheres, ionospheres, interplanetary medium, solar corona), by the gravitational influence of the planet on the spacecraft and finally by the performance of the various systems involved both on the spacecraft and on ground.
Radio sounding of the atmosphere and ionosphere
As the spacecraft is entering and exiting occultation by Mars as seen from the Earth, the TT&C radio beam slices through the layers of the ionosphere and neutral atmosphere. The TT&C system is operating in the two-way mode, which means that the downlink frequencies are derived from the received uplink frequency. Changes in the received radio frequency measured with an accuracy of one part in 10-13 correspond to the detection of a change in the angle of refraction of radio rays in occultation experiments of the order of 10-8 radians.
The separation of the effects of the ionosphere and the neutral atmosphere on the radio link is feasible by using a dual-frequency downlink and due to the fortunate fact that the peak height of the ionosphere and the limit of the detectable neutral atmosphere are well separated in height.
Bistatic radar investigation of planetary surface properties
The bistatic radar configuration is distinguished from the monostatic by spatial separation of the transmitter (the spacecraft) and the receiver (ground station on Earth). It is a powerful tool for providing information about surface texture (roughness and slope) on scales comparable with the sensing wavelength (of the order of centimetres to metres). Bistatic radar may also be used to determine properties of the surface material, such as dielectric constant, through differential reflection of orthogonal polarizations. The bistatic radar geometry of an orbiting spacecraft is well suited to probing the surface of planets at a variety of latitude, longitude and incidence angles.
For a typical downlink bistatic radar experiment, the radio signal is transmitted from the spacecraft High Gain Antenna toward the planetary surface and is scattered from that surface. That part of the signal power that is reflected toward Earth is received at the ground station. Optimising performance of the bistatic radar experiments requires accurate prediction of the orbiter trajectory for the formulation of antenna pointing strategies and prediction of signal parameters such as Doppler shift and signal amplitude. In a quasi-specular experiment the antenna is then programmed to follow a locus of points for which surface reflection would be specular if Mars were smooth. From the data recorded along these specular point paths, surface roughness can be inferred from Doppler dispersion of the echo signal; the dielectric constant of the surface material can be inferred from the echo amplitude and/or polarization properties.
In a bistatic backscatter experiment, the spacecraft antenna is aimed exactly opposite to the Earth direction, a configuration which is often much easier to implement than dynamically tracking either moving or fixed points. As the antenna beam illuminates regions on the surface, coherent backscatter enhancements will cause ice-covered areas to appear extremely bright. Repeated tracks over the polar region can be used to define the boundaries of icy polar deposits or to monitor their changes as a function of time. The spatial resolution of the measurements is approximately equal to the projection of the HGA beam on the surface. The radio echo signal is received in the open-loop mode in two orthogonal polarizations (for example, Left Circular Polarization, and Right Circular Polarization), down-converted, sampled, and stored for further processing at investigating institutions.
Determination of the mass of Phobos
The objective of this experiment is the precise determination of the mass of the Martian moon Phobos and, if feasible, also of the low degree spherical harmonics of its gravity field. The shape and volume of Phobos will be determined using observations made by the cameras carried on Mars Express, allowing the bulk density of the moon may be derived.
The method of mass determination during close encounters with small bodies is well established. The gravitational attraction of Phobos will slightly disturb the trajectory of Mars Express. The difference between predicted trajectory (without Phobos) and the actually observed trajectory will lead to the determination of the attractive forces acting on the spacecraft and from them the mass of the moon. To make these measurements, the spacecraft is operating in two-way link mode with an X-band uplink.
The observations will be performed each time the spacecraft encounters Phobos with a closest approach distance of less than 500 km.
Investigation of gravity anomalies
Gravity information can be obtained at all times when the spacecraft is using the two-way dual-frequency radio link and the spacecraft is close enough to the surface that gravity accelerations significantly affects the spacecraft velocity. Earth pointing of the HGA is required to maintain a continuous radio link. The coherent and simultaneous dual-frequency downlink allows the extraction of the dispersive effects on the downlink due to the interplanetary medium and the Earth's ionosphere. Doppler tracking data will be acquired at a rate of one sample per 10 seconds and ranging data will be collected at a rate of one point per 10 minutes.
Velocity contributions induced by attitude control movements of the spacecraft which result in a HGA motion relative to the line-of-sight to Earth may reach several mm s-1. Therefore, thruster activities and attitude control commands have to be recorded in order to reconstruct the attitude motion for later correction of derived LOS gravity accelerations.
The anticipated accuracy of an S/X-band two-way radio link is of the order of 10-5 ms-1. This translates into an accuracy of gravitational acceleration determination of the order of several mGal (one mGal = 10-5 ms-2 ≈ 10-6 g), depending on the height and extent of the local topographic features.
Solar corona sounding
Solar corona sounding will be performed using a two-way radio link. A dual-frequency downlink at S-band and X-band will be used to separate the coronal dispersive effects from the classical Doppler shifts. The two-way link is a powerful tool for the derivation of electron density models from observed electron content when propagation time delay data (ranging) and dispersive Doppler shifts are compared. The two-way link can also be used as the basis for the derivation of solar wind speed by correlating uplink and downlink signals and a detector for rapidly outward propagating density enhancements originating from solar events.
Superior solar conjunctions of Mars will occur in mid-October 2004 and mid-October 2006 over the North Pole of the Sun in the plane of sky at an apparent distance from the solar disk of less than three solar radii. The dispersive effects of the solar corona on the radio link will dominate the classical and dispersive contributions from the Martian gravity field and atmosphere.
Solar coronal sounding will be performed when Mars Express is within ten degrees elongation on either side of the solar disk (40 solar radii), which will occur from mid-September to mid-November 2004 and 2006.
The Mars Express Orbiter Radio Science (MaRS) experiment makes use of the radio link between the orbiter and the ground station(s) on Earth. Frequency, amplitude and polarisation information will be extracted from the radio signal received in the ground station.
The S-band uplink is received via the Low Gain Antennas (LGA) or the High gain Antenna (HGA). In coherent, two-way mode the received frequency is used to derive the downlink frequencies using the transponder frequency ratios 880/221 and 240/221 for the X-band and S-band downlinks, respectively.
The X-band uplink is received via the HGA only. In the coherent two-way mode, the received frequency is used to derive the downlink frequencies using the transponder frequency ratios 880/749 and 240/749 for X-band and S-band downlinks, respectively. An X-band uplink will enhance the performance of the experiment because X-band is less sensitive to the effect of interplanetary plasma along the propagation path.
The simultaneous and phase coherent dual-frequency downlink at X-band and S-band is transmitted via the HGA. The X-band and S-band frequencies are related by a factor of 11/3. If an uplink exists, the downlinks are also coherent with the uplink in their respective transponding ratios. The dual-frequency downlink is required in order to separate the classical Doppler shift, due to the relative motion of the spacecraft and the ground station, from the dispersive media effects, due to the propagation of the radio waves through the ionosphere and interplanetary medium. It is also required that both frequencies are transmitted via the High Gain Antenna to maximise the signal-to-noise ratio.
The ground stations will include the tracking complexes near Perth, Australia (ESA, 35 m antenna), and the Deep Space Network in California, Spain and Australia (NASA, 34 m antenna). A tracking pass consists of typically eight to ten hours of visibility. Measurements of the spacecraft range and carrier Doppler shift can be obtained whenever the spacecraft is visible. In the two-way mode the ground station transmits an uplink radio signal at S-band or X-band and receives the dual-frequency simultaneous downlink at X-band and S-band. The information about signal amplitude, received frequency and polarization is extracted and stored, together with the time of receipt.
The ground stations will employ a hydrogen maser frequency standard to achieve frequency stability of the order of one part in 10-15 over a long integration time (> 100 seconds). This stability is required for precise two-way tracking in order to achieve velocity measurement accuracies better than 10-4 ms-1 with a one second integration time.
Last Update: 08 August 2006