2017.B.1.1. An Areostationary CubeSat Mission to Monitor the Weather on Mars


Luca Montabone (1)
Michael VanWoerkom (2)
Bruce Cantor (3)
Michel Capderou (4)
François Forget (4)
Michael D. Smith (5)
Michael J. Wolff (1)

  1. Space Science Institute, United States of America
  2. ExoTerra Resource LLC, United States of America
  3. Malin Space Science Systems, United States of America
  4. Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique – IPSL, France
  5. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, United States of America




Mars, Atmosphere, Weather, Aerosol dynamics, Human exploration


We have elaborated a mission concept to put a 12U CubeSat in an equatorial, circular, planet-synchronous (i.e. areostationary) orbit around Mars. This mission would last for at least one Martian year, departing from a primary Mars mission after ridesharing to the planet. This concept bypasses the current limitation of orbiters at Mars, which cannot provide continuous atmospheric and surface observations over extended, fixed areas. The planned areostationary orbit would be the first of its kind, offering the unequaled possibility to obtain a novel set of frequent observations over a region of the planet that can extend up to 80° away from the sub-spacecraft point (although the portion of the disk useful for scientific purposes might be limited to about 60° away). The CubeSat would use a solar electric propulsion system based on iodine micro Hall-effect thrusters that allow it to reach, optimize and maintain its orbit, dramatically improving its lifetime and control. One of the key science objectives of such a mission would be to enable the continuous monitoring of weather patterns in the Martian atmosphere following the aerosol dynamics. Observations from areostationary orbit using, for instance, state-of-the-art visible and ultraviolet micro-cameras with sufficiently high resolution could monitor in detail the onset, evolution and decay of large regional dust storms, and the formation, evolution and dissipation of extended water ice clouds from a fixed vantage point at about 17,000 km above the equator. Observations in the thermal infrared could provide access to night-side vision, thus allowing for full monitoring of the daily cycle. This mission could also monitor the changes in surface properties (e.g. albedo) over the observed region throughout the Martian year and, specifically, after the occurrence and decay of large dust storms. In addition to directly contributing to the monitoring of weather of Mars, data collected from areostationary orbit would allow for more precise data assimilation in atmospheric models, making an indirect contribution to the characterization of the atmospheric circulation and the improvement of dust storm forecast. Ultimately, a low-cost, low-risk areostationary CubeSat mission to Mars would address key scientific questions related to the atmospheric dynamics –particularly with respect to diurnal variations- as well as to provide critical surveys of dust-related hazards at potential landing sites for future robotic missions and to prepare for human exploration.


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