A Global Observing System for Mars: The dual satellite Mars Astrobiology and Climate Observatory (MACO)

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[0343] Atmospheric Composition And Structure / Planetary Atmospheres, [3307] Atmospheric Processes / Boundary Layer Processes, [5464] Planetary Sciences: Solid Surface Planets / Remote Sensing, [6225] Planetary Sciences: Solar System Objects / Mars

Scientific paper

We summarize a planetary decadal survey white paper describing the rationale for and key elements of a dual satellite orbiting mission (DSM) concept called the Mars Astrobiology and Climate Observatory (MACO). MACO uses mm-wavelength satellite to satellite (sat-sat) occultations in combination with solar occultations (SO) to answer and strongly constrain many key lower and middle atmosphere Mars science questions previously considered unachievable from orbit. On the climate side, MACO would focus on the hydrological, dust and energy cycles of Mars. MACO would measure the transport of water in the present Martian climate, identify sources and sinks and constrain processes in order to better understand present and past Martian climate and glacial and subsurface water reservoirs. Dust-penetrating, satellite-to-satellite mm-wave occultations would profile water vapor to 3%, temperature to 0.4K, geopotential height of pressure to 10 m, line of sight winds to < 2 m/s and balanced winds via pressure gradients, as well turbulence and certain trace constituents with 60 meter diffraction limited vertical resolution and high precision extending down to the surface. A prototype mm-wave occultation instrument will be demonstrated in 2010 via high altitude aircraft to aircraft occultations. MACO will make coincident thermal IR and shortwave measurements to characterize airborne dust to understand dust storm initiation and evolution and how atmospheric dust concentrations are maintained in general. The combination of sensitivity, accuracy and vertical resolution from the satellite to satellite occultation is simply not possible with radiometers and will provide ~30,000 globally distributed near-entry probe quality profiles each Martian year profiling the boundary layer and exchange between the atmosphere and surface. A near-IR solar occultation instrument, such as the French SOIR or a derivative of the Canadian ACE FTIR instrument, would survey chemical trace species such as methane in the Martian atmosphere to look for signatures of subsurface processes related to possible habitable zones and life. MACO’s winds will be key in tracing plumes back to their source regions. Proposed near-surface ion-related heterogeneous chemistry will be assessed by profiling near surface concentrations of H2O2, H2O and dust to look for predicted enhancements in of H2O2 and how they vary with H2O and dust concentrations. MACO’s combined capabilities are a superset of the Mars Science Orbiter (MSO) recommended by the Calvin et al. (2007) report. MACO would fit as a moderate scale mission in the 2016 launch opportunity. Alternatively, since NASA and ESA have recently announced their intent to fly a single orbiter, trace gas mission in 2016, the MACO mm occultation receiver (which can also measure thermal emission and solar occultations) could be flown on that mission and the occultation transmitter could be carried on another mission flown by an international partner such as Japan or India.

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