A microchip designed at the UPC is on its way to Mars

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Copyright: NASA/JPC-CALTECH

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Copyright: NASA/JPC-CALTECH/LOCKHEED MARTIN

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Copyright: NASA/JPC-CALTECH

Researchers from the UPC’s Micro and Nanotechnology Research Group participated in the design of a wind sensor that has been installed in NASA's InSight spacecraft to study the interior of the planet Mars.

May 31, 2018

NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (Insight) spacecraft was launched into space on 5 May with the goal of placing the first seismometer on the surface of Mars. The mission will measure Martian earthquakes and use seismic waves to better understand the history of the planet and the formation and evolution of the other rocky planets of the solar system.

The InSight module has a weather station, called Twins, developed by the Astrobiology Centre (CSIC-INTA) in Madrid, in collaboration with the companies CRISA and Alter, the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) and other entities. This station will measure wind strength, wind direction and temperature. It will incorporate a wind sensor equipped with a silicon chip designed and manufactured by researchers from the UPC’s Micro and Nanotechnology Research Group, led by Professor Luis Castañer of the Barcelona School of Telecommunications Engineering (ETSETB). The measurements taken by Twins will be used to determine whether the vibrations recorded by the InSight seismograph come from the interior of the planet or are caused by wind shaking the instrument.

The system for measuring wind developed by ETSETB researchers in the Clean Room laboratory is similar to that designed for the REMS instrument incorporated in the Curiosity explorer robot and is based on the physical principle known as hot-wire anemometry. The traditional method of doing this is to use an electric current to heat a platinum wire (commonly used in electronics because its resistance is sensitive to temperature) and to measure the temperature change when the wire is cooled by the wind. The temperature difference is used to gauge the wind speed.

Scientists predict that about 100 earthquakes will be recorded on Mars during this mission, which will last about two Earth years.


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