Northern Light (spacecraft)

Northern Light (spacecraft)
Northern Light
Northern Light Lander Mars1.jpg
Northern Light Lander on Mars
(artist's impression)
Operator Northern Light Consortium
Major contractors Thoth Technology Inc.
Mission type Lander and rover
Mass 6 kg rover; 35 kg lander
Power Solar power

Northern Light is a proposed unmanned mission to Mars that would consist of a lander and a rover, being planned by a consortium of Canadian universities, companies and organisations. The primary contractor for the spacecraft is Thoth Technology Inc., based in Kettleby, Ontario.

The spacecraft would consist of four parts: An apogee kick engine to provide orbital injection for a cruise vehicle that carries the Northern Light lander and the Beaver Rover to a direct rendezvous with Mars using a Hohmann transfer orbit. Atmospheric entry would be achieved by a heat shield, parachute and airbag deployment system. The lander would transfer the rover to the Martian surface. Once deployed on the Martian surface, the lander contacts Earth directly utilizing the 46m parabolic antenna located at the Algonquin Radio Observatory.

The Beaver Rover is designed to have a maximum range of 1000 metres (0.62 mile) from the landing site. It would operate under battery, utilizing tools and sensors to investigate surface rocks that may contain the presence of photosynthetic life.



The project got started officially on 2001, and its project leader is Ben Quine, from York University, Canada. York University has participated in the Canadian Space Program and has designed several space research instruments and applications currently used by NASA, including the meteorological station on board the Phoenix Mars lander.[1][2]

Partners in this Mars project are York University, University of Alberta, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, University of Winnipeg, University of Western Ontario, University of Saskatchewan, University of New Brunswick, McGill University and Simon Fraser University.[3] The mission control for the period after it lands on Mars, would be headquartered at York University.[4]

Much of the hardware is based on the British Beagle 2 lander. The cost will be an estimated $20 million dollars, or possibly less if another country shares the rocket.[4] So far, the Canadian Space Agency confirmed it knows of the project, but has no involvement in it.[4]

Scientific goals

There are four primary goals for the mission:[5]

  1. Search for life on Mars.
  2. Search for water on Mars.
  3. Investigate Martian electromagnetic radiation environment and atmospheric properties.
  4. Prepare for the international effort of a Mars sample return mission and a manned mission to Mars.

Payload of the Beaver Rover

The rover system is required for geological surface exploration and for subsurface imaging. With a mass of approximately 6 kg (13.2 lb), the rover will operate under its own power and will have a range of roughly 1 km (0.62 mi). The rover will be equipped with a visible camera for manoeuvering and surface exploration, as well as a Point Spectrometer and microscope camera for geological survey. A ground-penetrating radar will explore the Martian subsurface and will look for water; an active vibrator and receiver will use short, sub-millisecond pulses to conduct an acoustic study of the subsurface. For immediate subsurface exploration, the rover will be equipped with a rock grinding tool.

MASSur Seismic Sensor

The MASSur Seismic Sensor, developed by the University of Calgary and GENNIX Technology Corporation, will provide depth profiles of the Martian surface. Specifically, a seismometer will conduct tests to determine the rigidity and elasticity of the Martian topsoil as well as its rock properties. Sediments, permafrost, and water may all have distinct signatures. This seismic system will use a vibrational source and elastic-wave receivers (accelerometers) on both the lander and on the Beaver Rover. The redundancy of lander and rover appartus, ensures that some primary science objectives can be met without rover deployment.

Ground Penetrating Radar

The Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) will utilize a 200 MHz radar to provide fine-scale, sub-surface imaging to a depth of 20 m (65 ft) on loose aggregate and up to 100 m (328 ft) on permafrost or ice. It shares several systems with the seismic instruments.[6]

TC Corer

The corer will be capable of drilling up to 10 mm into surface rocks. This tool is used in conjunction with the Aurora spectrometer and microscope to examine the near-surface composition and to look for biosignatures of near-surface life. The core is contributed to the mission from Hong Kong. The flight model instrument has a mass of 350g.

Payload of the Northern Light Lander

Aurora Spectrometer

The spectrometer has a wavelength coverage of 625 nm to 2500 nm and observes the whole sky. The instrument will measure variations in spectral irradiance which can be utilized to determine aerosol and atmospheric composition including the concentration of carbon dioxide, the major constituent of the Martian atmosphere. It will also carry out angular dependency of radiation influx in the atmosphere. The Aurora instrument has a mass of 450g.[6]

Argus 4000 Spectrometer

Similar in design to the Argus 1000 spectrometer, flown on CanX-2, the radiometer will be the primary equipment of the Northern Light lander making measurements of spectral rock reflectance. The spectrometer has a mass of 240g.[6]

Camera systems

The camera systems on the lander will have the capability of narrow and wide field surveys. The narrow field survey will provide a very high resolution, panoramic view of the landing site. Colour filters will perform some spectral mapping and mineral identification of the surrounding soil; the camera will also perform limited atmospheric and astronomical observations.[6] Colour images of Earth will be obtained.

The wide field survey will provide an overall colour view of the lander’s surroundings to help rover deployment and route planning.

MASSur Seismic Sensors

Similar specifications as those on the Beaver Rover.

Environmental sensors

Environmental sensors will monitor environmental conditions at the landing site. Various equipment will measure UV rays, oxidising substances, air pressure, air temperature, dust impact, wind velocity, and ground vibration. These sensors will have a combined mass of 130 g. Flight models were previously developed for Britain’s Beagle 2 lander.


A planned launch date is not available and the mission website has not been updated since 2009. The main driving factor is the cost of the spacecraft launch; launchers are extremely expensive to build and use. The launcher type has not yet been confirmed.


The entry system will be tracked and targeted utilizing a combination of Doppler radar and very long baseline interferometry. This data is processed by a high-resolution orbital model that utilizes high-precision ephemeris to predict spacecraft location and trajectory.

Upon launch, tracking will commence at the Algonquin Radio Observatory. After orbital injection, the spacecraft will be contacted periodically to obtain system status and to determine trajectory. As the package reaches the Matrian thermosphere continuous tracking will commence in order to verify mechanism deployment during descent.[7]

Landing site

The landing site has not yet been determined. Given the purpose of the equipment aboard the spacecraft, the landing site will more than likely be a dry 'sea', within 5 km of a basin formation. The purported area will serve as both a palaeontogical exploration site, as well as a potential area where ice or liquid water could be found.

See also


  1. ^ Experiment aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour. York U press release. Retrieved 2008-05-22
  2. ^ NASA Phoenix Mission to Mars. York U press release. Retrieved 2008-05-22.
  3. ^ "University of Alberta joins mission to Mars". The Edmonton Journal. August 22, 2007. Retrieved 2009-07-27. 
  4. ^ a b c "Mission to Mars to be 100% Canadian". The Ottawa Citizen (CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc.). August 22, 2007. Retrieved 2009-08-01. 
  5. ^ "Four Science Themes". Thoth Technology Inc.. 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-29. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Northern Light Instrumentation". Thoth Technology Inc.. 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 
  7. ^ "The Algonquin Radio Observatory (ARO)". Thoth Technology Inc.. 2009. Retrieved 2009-07-28. 

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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