Paper on the CASTAway mission

17 Dec. 2017

Scientific Workshop "From Mars Express to Exomars": First announcement

Oct 31, 2017 - The Interdisciplinary Workshop devoted to revise our current understanding of Mars, from the surface to the upper atmosphere, in the eve of the Exomars TGO operational science phase will be held on 27 and 28 February 2018, at ESAC (ESA), Madrid, Spain

The "Martian Puzzle". A virtual visit

Jul 11, 2017 - You can do a virtual tour to "The Martian Puzzle" exhibition

UPWARDS 2nd Year Review Meeting @ INAF, Rome, Italy

March 27th, 2017 to March 28th, 2017 - Please find here the summary of the Meeting (partners only)

The "Let's go to Mars!" app launched!

Dec 29, 2016 - With the "Let's go to Mars" App, the player will have to explore Mars and face its many dangers in order to build the first human colony in the red planet

NOMAD observes Mars for the first time!

2 Dec 2016 - After orbit insertion, TGO is now in an elliptical orbit, passing close to Mars every 4.2 days. During two of these orbits, we were able to switch on all the instruments and run some detailed calibration measurements, allowing us to take as much data as possible before the long sleep during aerobraking. During the pericentre passes, we pointed the LNO and UVIS boresights towards Mars and were able to take our very first spectra of Mars.


And then on the 2nd pass close to Mars, we were able to take a look at some other diffraction orders: the absorption lines seen below are due to carbon monoxide in the atmosphere of Mars! We also had an opportunity to observe Phobos, a moon of Mars - processing the data is still ongoing...


ESA PDS-PSA workshop and DHAWG meeting

22 Nov 2016 - Five of the NOMAD team are currently at ESAC in Madrid, attending the Planetary Data System - Planetary Science Archive workshop. This workshop is teaching us how to read, generate and validate the data that we will deliver to ESA, which will be available for anyone to access for free when ready. Tomorrow we will attend the ExoMars Data Handling and Archiving Working Group (DHAWG) meeting, to discuss NOMAD-specific points with the data handling experts at ESA. Below is the workshop group photo, courtesy of Santa Martinez


Planning for measurements in elliptical orbit

28 Oct 2016 - After sucessful insertion into an elliptical capture orbit two weeks ago, we have now been allocated two orbits' worth of measurement time. That may not sound much, but in this orbit it gives us over 8 days of opportunities. However, the spacecraft and instruments have strict limitations, and so we have a plan carefully to ensure that none of these constraints are violated. For example, some instruments cannot point within a certain angle of the sun, while the solar panels much be able to view the sun, and manouevres must be separated sufficiently that the satellite has time to point towards the next target. Not to mention that some teams may want to look in different directions from others at any one time!

Two images showing the types of measurements we would like to make during two orbits of the Mars Capture Orbit.

NOMAD achieves orbit around Mars

19 Oct 2016 - Following a long thruster burn, the Trace Gas Orbiter was successfully placed into an elliptical orbit around Mars. Each orbit lasts 4 and a half days, with the altitude above the surface varying from just 280km to 99,000km during each orbit. At the end of November we will have the opportunity to turn on the instruments, including NOMAD, to perform some calibration measurements and check the health of the payloads. There may even be a little time to perform some initial science measurements as we pass close to Mars.


NOMAD team at the ExoMars SPICE workshop

14 Sep 2016 - This week, some of the NOMAD team are at the European Space Astronomy Centre near Madrid for a workshop on using SPICE kernels. These SPICE kernels are a measurement and programming system which allows scientists and engineers to calculate exactly where the spacecraft and planets are at any time and the direction in which the instruments onboard are pointing. This allows us to analyse the data returned from NOMAD and also to plan future observations


NOMAD looks at the Sun for the first time!

13 Apr 2016 - During the voyage to Mars we have several opportunities to switch on the instruments and run some tests and calibrations. During the night on Monday, we performed a raster scan of the Sun with all the solar channels, so that we could check that we are pointing in the direction that we expect. As our field of view passes over the sun, you can see the signal increase rapidly in both the LNO channel (top video) and UVIS channel (bottom video)!

Videos can be viewed in the Chrome browser (natively) or by opening in VLC

TGO Deimos Observations during the High Elliptical Orbit phase

06 Apr 2016 - There is one pass where NOMAD is relatively close to to Deimos (size>6 arcmins) and is well illuminated (phase angle<30 degrees) that it may be visible. Legend: Phobos=black, Deimos=blue, TGO=green, Mars-Sun direction=yellow line).

Videos can be viewed in the Chrome browser (natively) or by opening in VLC

TGO Phobos Observations during the High Elliptical Orbit phase

05 Apr 2016 - There are three passes where NOMAD is sufficiently close to to Phobos (size>10 arcmins) and is well illuminated (phase angle<30 degrees) that it could be viewed. Legend: Phobos=black, Deimos=blue, TGO=green, Mars-Sun direction=yellow line)


ExoMars Orbit Calculation

05 Apr 2016 - The first animation shows the trajectory of TGO on its way to Mars (Earth=blue, Mars=red, Green=TGO). The second animation shows the trajectory of TGO when reaching Mars (Mars=red, Phobos=black, Deimos=blue, Sun=yellow, TGO=green).

Videos can be viewed in the Chrome browser (natively) or by opening in VLC


ExoMars Launch

29 Mar 2016 - In the latest video of their Destination Mars series, EuroNews journalists were on hand at the launch site and in Russian mission control to report on the launch day activities.



NOMAD is on its way to Mars!

22 Mar 2016 - Here is a figure showing how the temperature of NOMAD changes during its voyage through space. To stop NOMAD from becoming too cold, it contains survival heaters that automatically switch on at -18C and off at -10C, creating the cycling pattern seen below.


ExoMars on its way to solve the red planet's mysteries

14 Mar 2016 - The first of two joint ESA-Roscosmos missions to Mars has begun a seven-month journey to the Red Planet, where it will address unsolved mysteries of the planet?s atmosphere that could indicate present-day geological ? or even biological ? activity. ...

Read the full article at the ESA website

RTBF - DIRECT: Lucie Dendooven + Eddy Neefs

14 Mar 2016 - Lucie Dendooven interviews Eddy Neefs, Head of BIRA Enginering.

Interview on the RTBF.

ExoMars launch updates

14 Mar 2016 - Updates from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the launch.

Read the full article at the ESA website. o

ExoMars launch with hugh media echo

Around the launch date - The launch was followed by the media, politics and the broad public. In the follwoing some links to press releases in English, French, Dutch, German and Russian:

  • ExoMars probe set to sniff out signs of life on the Red Planet New Scientist
  • Are we on the verge of finding life on Mars? Rocket to carry the alien-hunting ExoMars probe to the red planet is ready to launch Daily Mail
  • How ExoMars/TGO gets to where it's going Rocket Science Blog
  • België vliegt prominent mee naar Mars Metro
  • België vliegt prominent mee naar Mars Knack
  • Nomad, le nez belge qui va renifler l'atmosphère de Mars L'Echo
  • Exomars kann Spuren von Leben finden Tagesspiegel
  • Opening Mars Expo in Euro Space Center OIP Sensor Systems - homepage
  • Why ExoMars' Ride to Space takes the Time it does Rocket Science Blog
  • Online translation - Interviews about the ExoMars launch (in Russian) Roscosmos
  • ExoMars 2016 Liftoff Robotics Exploration at the ESA Homepage
  • Le NOMAD belge a décollé avec succès vers Mars L'avenir
  • L'instrument belge NOMAD s'est envolé vers Mars 7sur7
  • Belgische NOMAD vertrokken naar Mars Het Laatste Nieuws
  • How the ExoMars mission could sniff out life on Mars? The Conversation
  • What you need to know about the ExoMars mission (in Russian) DNU.RU
  • De ExoMars op weg naar de Rode Planeet De Standaard
  • Europese ruimtemissie zoekt naar sporen van leven op Mars Het Niewsblad
  • ExoMars zet koers richting Rode Planeet De Redactie
  • Europese Marssonde gelanceerd in Kazachstan Nederlandse Publieke Omroep
  • La mission ExoMars 2016 a quitté l'orbite de la Terre RTBF
  • ExoMars 2016 : l'Europe à la conquête de Mars Le Point
  • À Nivelles, Lambda-X savoure: premier cap franchi pour ExoMars L'avenir
  • CaSSIS ? Schweizer Kamera macht sich heute auf den Weg zum Mars Fotointern
  • Proton-M successfully launches first ExoMars spacecraft NASA Spaceflight
  • Mars TGO probe despatched on methane investigation BBC
  • Nächster Halt Roter Planet - ExoMars gestartet DLR
  • Proton launches ExoMars mission Space News
  • ExoMars mission leaves Earth orbit heading for Mars Euronews
  • Forschungsmission "ExoMars": Reiseziel rot Spiegel Online

Mission Control ready for Mars Launch

12 Mar 2016 - ESA?s mission control conducted the dress rehearsal for the ExoMars launch today, an important final step in preparing the ground teams and systems for the 14 March departure to the Red Planet.

Read the full article at ESA Operation on the ESA website.

NOMAD spectrometer at the Mars Expo in the Euro Space Center (Redu)

10 March 2016



From beginning of March till end of August, a Mars Expo is organized in the Euro Space Center by the Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy. The ExoMars 2016 mission, a joint endeavor between ESA and Roscosmos, will depart on March 14th 2016 to the Red Planet, carrying Belgian technology to perform pioneering science: the NOMAD spectrometer. NOMAD is a 3-channel spectrometer suite to conduct a spectroscopic survey of Mars' atmosphere in the UV, visible and IR spectral ranges, in search for traces of life. The exhibition was officially opened on March 10th.

TGO Launch Press Release

10 March 2016 - To celebrate the successful launch of ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, a public presentation was held during the opening day of the exhibition. The full IASB-BIRA NOMAD team was present, and answered the questions of the journalists.



To view the public presentation, click here.

ExoMars 2016 meets its Proton Rocket

07 Mar 2016 - In pictures: ExoMars 2016 spacecraft united with the Proton rocket.

Read the full article at Robotic exploration of Mars on the ESA website.

ExoMars 2016: Interviews with Nick Thomas and Ann Carine Vandaele

07 Mar 2016 - Here is a video explaining the science and technology behind the ExoMars 2016 orbiter and lander. The video includes interviews by the Principal Investigator of NOMAD, Ann Carine Vandaele, and the Principal Investigator of CaSSIS, Nick Thomas, who each explain how their respective instruments work and what new scientific insights we hope to gain. The NOMAD STM is shown briefly, as is a toned-down version of the CaSSIS pointing dance - the explanation of the stereo imaging principle is usually much more energetic(!)


Spacecraft encapsulated

03 Mar 2016 - ExoMars 2016 Spacecraft encapsulated with Launcher Fairing.

With less than two weeks until the launch of ExoMars 2016, preparations are proceeding well and the spacecraft composite has now been encapsulated within the launcher fairing at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. ...

Read the full article at Robotic exploration of Mars on the ESA website.

Destination Mars, episode 2: The hunt for methane

25 Feb 2016 - In March 2016 the ExoMars mission sets off towards the red planet, looking for signs of methane. Ann Carine Vandaele, head of the NOMAD instrument on board the ExoMars mission, explains how and why. "Methane is important because on Earth it is linked to biological processes," she says.

Visit of journalist Susan Nelson

25 Feb 2016 - Last week the space journalist Susan Nelson from Boffin Media visited BIRA and interviewed Ann-Carine Vandaele.

ExoMars 2016: Launch to Mars!

17 Feb 2016 - Animation visualising milestones during the launch of the ExoMars 2016 mission and its cruise to Mars. The mission comprises the Trace Gas Orbiter and an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, Schiaparelli, which are scheduled to be launched on a four-stage Proton-M/Breeze-M rocket from Baikonur during the 14 and 25 March 2016 window.


Together to Mars

16 Feb 2016 - United they stand Trace gas orbiter and Schiaparelli are joined.

The Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli are now in their launch configuration. The ExoMars 2016 spacecraft will remain united until 16 October, when the entry, descent and landing demonstrator module will separate from the orbiter to descend to the surface of Mars. ...

Read the full article at Robotic exploration of Mars on the ESA website.

Interview with Boris Bethge

09 Feb 2016 - Interview with Boris Bethge, Senior Assembly, Integration and Verification (AIV) Engineer of ExoMars.

"The first mission of ESA's ExoMars programme, which is scheduled to arrive at Mars in October 2016, consists of the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) plus Schiaparelli, the entry, descent and landing demonstrator module.

The AIV Systems Engineer for ExoMars 2016 is Boris Bethge. We asked Boris to tell us more about his background and his work on the mission to Mars. ..."

Read the interview at ExoMars on ESA website

Destination Mars, episode 2: The hunt for methane

26 Jan 2016 - Ann C. Vandaele, researcher at IASB-BISA, is interviewed by EuroNews on the ExoMars mission and the NOMAD instrument.

UPWARDS: the documentary

Jan 22, 2016 - UPWARDS: Understanding Planet Mars is a signature documentary film about key questions about Mars produced by the project's outreach & communication team.

Destination Mars, episode 1: Searching for signs of life

26 Jan 2016 - Jorge Vago, one of the Exomars Project Scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA), outlined the mission.

Busy in Baikonur: a look back at the first few weeks for ExoMars 2016 at the cosmodrome

22 January 2016 - One month ago, the ExoMars 2016 Trace Gas Orbiter and Schiaparelli (the entry, descent and landing demonstrator module) travelled aboard two Antonov 124 cargo jets from Turin, Italy, to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to be readied for launch in March.

More on ExoMars Twitter or ExoMars Website

TGO is at Baikonour !

23 Dec. 2015 - The 3rd ExoMars flight containing the Trace Gas Orbiter TGO safely arrived in Baikonur this morning.

More on ExoMars Twitter

ExoMars prepares to leave Europe for launch site

25 Nov. 2015 - The ExoMars spacecraft of the 2016 mission is being prepared for shipping to the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan ahead of their launch in March. NOMAD, the instrument developped at IASB-BIRA is part of the ExoMars TGO 2016 mission.

More on ExoMars on ESA website

Discrete and diffuse aurorae in the Martian Atmosphere

For the first time, MAVEN surprisingly detected diffuse aurorae in the Northern hemisphere of the planet Mars, where a magnetic field is absent while it was thought it is an indispensable ingredient for the observation of aurorae.

The Belgian newspaper Le Soir dedicated a full page to the planet Mars (.pdf). Dr Arnaud Stiepen from the ULg and member of the SCOOP project was interviewed (in French) over the latest discoveries by the Nasa probe MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) orbiting Mars since September 2014.

In addition, an ESA press release about the Mars Express Mission placed the work by the team of Jean-Claude Gérard (LPAP, ULg) in front.

Armed with 10 years of Mars Express observations, they have detected discrete ultraviolet auroras in the Sourthern hemisphere on many occasions, and have analysed in detail how and where they are produced in the Martian atmosphere. They concluded that the auroras appear only under special conditions, near the boundary between open and closed magnetic field lines (see Figure below).

Unlike the northern hemisphere, the southern hemisphere of Mars has regions where the rocks have preserved the memory of a past magnetism. This residual magnetic field is called paleomagnetism. The ultraviolet auroras associated with known magnetic anomalies in Mars’ crust are confined, rare and transient events that vary in time and space. They are very different from the auroras seen on other planets.

Distribution map of discrete aurores (white circles) detected in the Southern hemisphere of Mars. The paleomagnetism appears on the background. © ULg, ESA.

Both phenomena, discrete and diffuse auroraes on Mars, are detailed on the Daily Science website (in French).

PSS Special Issue : "Exploration of Venus"

Sep. 2015 - Compiling the latest results from the Venus Express ESA mission, a special issue has been published in Planet. Space Sc. - IASB-BIRA researchers have been very active

Several papers with IASB-BIRA first authors were published in the PSS special issue on the "Exploration of Venus":

and several papers where IASB-BIRA researchers are co-authors:


UPWARDS' First Progress Meeting @M6

Sep 17, 2015 - The UPWARDS consortium met last September 17th for exchanging thoughts about the progress of the project

The shooting of 'UPWARDS: Re-thinking MARS' has ended

Sep 12, 2015 - After three weeks of filming across Europe, the shooting part of the documentary about the Red Planet 'UPWARDS: Re-Thinking MARS' has finished

UPWARDS, a cutting-edge project for global understanding of Mars

Jul 09, 2015 - Co-ordinated by the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (IAA-CSIC), the project involves seven European scientific institutions which are developing new analytical techniques to exploit the Mars Express and the future ExoMars missions.

EuroPlanet - a new Horizon 2020 project !

15 Sep. 2015 - Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure launches new era of planetary collaboration in Europe

A 9.95 million project to integrate and support planetary science activities across Europe has been launched. The Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure (RI) is funded under the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme and will run for four years until August 2019. The project is led by the Open University, UK, and has 34 beneficiary institutions from 19 European countries. Europlanet 2020 RI will address key scientific and technological challenges facing modern planetary science by providing open access to state-of-the-art research data, models and facilities across the European Research Area.

Prof Nigel Mason, the Project Coordinator, said, “We are delighted to announce the launch of this new Research Infrastructure. Since its foundation in 2005, Europlanet has played an immensely effective role in bringing together the European planetary science community. In this latest project, we have an ambitious programme of research, access and networking activities. In particular, our focus will be on fostering a closer integration between industry and academia in planetary science, and supporting institutions and partners from countries in early stages of developing planetary research programmes.

For more information:
Follow on Twitter via @Europlanet2020

NOMAD at CSL for the reacceptance tests

22 April 2015 - The NOMAD instrument is back to CSL for some more tests and calibration after the successful swap of the LNO detector. The shroud is going down around NOMAD.

NOMAD instrument shroud from aeronomie bira-iasb on Vimeo.

Belgian technology ready for Mars

30 March 2015 - In January 2016, the ExoMars trace Gas Orbiter will be launched toward Mars with on board, a new instrument resulting from an international consortium led by Belgium. This instrument will study the Martian atmosphere, looking for traces of life. On Tuesday 24 March 2015 the instrument will be visible in Belgium for the last time before leaving our country to be delivered to the European Space Agency for the final integration on the satellite.

Communiqué de presse: De la technologie de pointe belge prête à partir pour Mars
Persbericht: Belgische toptechnologie klaar voor vertrek naar planeet Mars

Measuring Mars' Ancient Ocean: NOMAD co-Is interviewed !

5 March 2015 - For decades, planetary scientists have suspected that ancient Mars was a much warmer, wetter environment than it is today, but estimates of just how much water Mars has lost since its formation vary widely. Now, new isotopic measurements by researchers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center reveal that an ocean once covered approximately twenty percent of the Martian surface. This new picture of early Mars is considerably wetter than many previous estimates, raising the odds for the ancient habitability of the Red Planet.

See the NASA movie on Youtube

See also an article in the Libre Belgique (in French)

NOMAD at IABG for a shocking experience !

04 March 2015 - The instrument passed the shock test today! A successful QUAL shock was given in the X-direction (with responses in X, Y and Z meeting the test requirements). The inspection and electrical functional test were OK. The instrument is still functioning as expected and the mirror mechanism is fully operational. No anomalies were detected during and after the test.

NOMAD instrument shock test from aeronomie bira-iasb on Vimeo.

Credits to Alexander Soenen perfect movie making skills (click on the image to start the film)

Under vibration

03 March 2015 - Vibration tests at CSL have progressed smoothly.

NOMAD PFM passed the 2.5days of vibration at CSL.

  • Y-axis was completed on Thu 26/02
  • Z-axis was completed on Fri 27/02
  • The out of plane X-axis was completed on Mon 02/03
  • All functional checks and inspections were successful

Set-up with EGSE and shaker. Filter Fan Units are switched-ON during test

Mystery Mars plume baffles scientists

16 February 2015 - Plumes seen reaching high above the surface of Mars are causing a stir among scientists studying the atmosphere on the Red Planet. ... more

NOMAD in the press

12 February 2015 - The Search For Volcanic Eruptions On Mars Reaches The Next Level. A new study of emissions from Martian volcanoes suggests there is no activity going on right now, but researchers are not ruling out recent eruptions. Using NASA Infrared Telescope Facility at Mauna Kea in Hawaii, the science team searched for signs of sulfuric acid a key indicator of volcanic activity. They focused on the major volcanic provinces of Mars (Tharsis and Syrtis Major) in two, multi-week observation sessions, one from December to January 2012, and another in May and June 2014. ... more


20 Jan 2015 - January has already been very busy month, now that we have a fully-working instrument. Many tests have been done; many are still to be done.

Below is a time-lapse video of a group of us working in the cleanroom:

NOMAD - Electrical Calibration Test Time Lapse from aeronomie bira-iasb on Vimeo.

And finally with UVIS !

19 Jan 2015 - and the 3d channel UVIS has now also recorded some spectra !

And now with LNO !

16 Jan 2015 - Some more spectra ... with the LNO channel now

First absorption spectra of NOMAD !

16 Jan 2015 - During the final tests before closing NOMAD, some measurements were done with the SO channel. Just a lamp in front of the entrance and here you go ... a fantastic spectrum of the air ! Today still from Earth, soon from Mars.

UVIS speaks...

25 June 2014 - The UVIS electronics has been plugged into the SINBAD electronics, following a dedicated visit by OU and MSSL staff to IAA for testing of the communication and capability of the electronics that is being built for the UVIS channel of NOMAD.

After a shaky start, a minor tweak solved the communication problem and UVIS sent its first ever image (of a resolution mask) through the complete UVIS->SINBAD->spacecraft chain.

The image consists of three frames of the CCD (one bias, one dark and one illuminated where the resolution mask can be seen). After two long days of testing at IAA, the UVIS electronics design and build can now move forward, and is an important step forward in ensuring that the UVIS channel operates effectively within NOMAD.

NOMAD First spectrum !

11 June 2014 - The first NOMAD spectrum has been recorded this week during an intensive week of testing the electronic boards and associated software. This first spectrum is just 'background noise', but nevertheless, it proves that the SINBAD electronics are working properly.

It has been obtained using the SINBAD COM prototype board together with SOIR electronics and the SOIR detector today at IAA in Granada.

It is a breakthrough after some weeks of intensive testing and debugging by the teams in Granada and Brussels.

NOMAD had a very busy start to 2014.

4-7 February 2014 - was the 6th ExoMars Science Working Team meeting (or the second since RosCosmos teamed up with ESA). Several NOMAD scientists went to Moscow to the Russian Academy of Sciences, where the meeting was held. (Left)It was cold and snowy the week before the Olympic Games began in Sochi. (Right) Project Engineer Eddy Neefs admires model Russian space hardware.

Moscow 2 Moscow 1

Mars Atmosphere Modelling and Observation workshop

13-17 January 2014: was the Mars Atmosphere Modelling and Observation workshop held in Oxford, UK. This was a chance to meet up with NOMAD Co-Is who came from America, Italy, Spain, the UK and Belgium. We also discussed with our Russian colleagues working on the ACS and Frend instruments on TGO.

On the left, IASB-BIRA scientist Séverine Robert with ACS scientists Sacha and Anna. On the right, the Belgian NOMAD team meets a new team member - Ian Thomas, who moved from Oxford to Brussels to start work as the NOMAD Project Manager from 3 February.

NOMAD and the spaghetti

6 December 2013: NOMAD's sinterklaas gift was a mock up of the channels, printed on a 3D printer by Glenair, UK. This printout serves as a basis to design the harnessing of NOMAD. This means all the electric cables that need to pass from the main computer to each electronic board, passing commands and sending back data. Space wiring is expensive as it must be light, reliable, and well insulated to prevent discharges and interfering signals from different channels. The wires also power heaters to keep the instrument warm during the long cruise from the Earth to Mars.

This picture shows the layer of NOMAD that has the solar occultation infra-red channel and the UV-Vis instrument that performs nadir and occultation measurements.

There is a real 'spaghetti' of wires criss-crossing the instrument, colour coded and of varying thicknesses. The heater loops are attached tightly to the baseplate, and have redundant (spare) heaters in case any fail. The main electronics boxes are attached underneath the baseplate shown here.

Belgium explores Mars

26 November 2013: NOMAD PI Ann Carine Vandaele gave a presentation at the British School of Brussels, organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Her talk on Exploring Mars was very well received, as this article shows... read more

NOMAD holds its Critical Design Review

1-3 October 2013: NOMAD team members from Spain, the UK and Belgium gathered in Brussels to answer questions from the experts at ESA and TAS (Thales Alenia Space - the ExoMars TGO prime contractor). Hundreds of documents were submitted for review during July and August and 189 questions (Review Item Discrepancies) were raised. The three days were long and intense, covering all aspects of the instrument design. Most topics were resolved, and the NOMAD team now has 6 weeks of work to update documents to reflect the agreements. CDR marks the passage from phase C to D of the instrument development - meaning that manufacture of the flight model can officially now begin. In fact, given NOMAD's tight schedule, many flight parts have already been ordered.

We took advantage of having our Spanish colleagues from IAA in Belgium to perform tests with an engineering model of SINBAD - NOMAD's 'computer'. All went well - it communicated with the mockup of our infrared channels here in Belgium, and was used to drive the stepper motor that will switch between nadir and occultation viewing in the LNO channel!

Desert trial for ESA Mars rover

04 October 2013: Next week will see ESA’s most ambitious planetary rover test yet. Robotic exploration of a Mars-like desert in South America will be overseen from the UK, providing experience for future missions to the Red Planet.

ExoMars Roover

More details on ESA Science website


Vibration Test

19 September 2013: After a successful Test Readiness Review with ESA, testing has begun on parts of the UVIS channel. The first was the vibration test of the selector mechanism, which allows NOMAD to select either solar or nadir viewing for the UV-Visible spectrometer. Images of the mechanism can be seen in the story from 13 August. Here is a video of it being shaken at various frequencies in the facilities at the Centre Spatiale de Liège. This is called a resonance search - it searches for any frequencies that provoke resonances in the mechanism. Resonances can cause larger than normal movement within a structure, and eventually cracks or breaks may occur. Since the entire instrument will vibrate at launch, a study of frequencies is very important. Sensors are mounted on the structure and a range of vibration frequencies are applied to it. Everything looks good so far......

NOMAD Science Working Team Meeting #5

4-6 September 2013: The fifth NOMAD science team meeting was held in London, UK at the beginning of September. 25 Co-Investigators from all over the world attended, with more participating via internet link. The UK Lead Co-I, Dr Manish Patel, and his team organised a busy social agenda, as well as the detailed workshop programme that covered technical updates on instrument development and scientific presentations by PhD students and more experienced researchers. There was also time for discussion on what NOMAD will achieve in the future.

Here we see the team enjoying a lovely sunny September evening from the London Eye at Waterloo.


Here we see the Royal Astronomical Society library, where books by Galileo, Newton and Herschel line the shelves... and the NOMAD team lines up for a photo during a tea break.

RAS library

Preparing to shake it up

13 August 2013: A pre- test readiness review was held at Lambda-X today with attendance from those involved in the development of the UVIS channel of NOMAD.

We are preparing to perform vibration testing of the selector mechanism. This is a very important part of the UVIS channel as it selects which telescope (nadir or solar occultation) transfers its light to the UVIS spectrometer. Optical fibres run from the back of each telescope to either end of a pivot attached to a motor. The motor rotates such that one end of this pivot is placed at the entrance slit of the UVIS optical bench. In fact, the nadir channel has 19 fibres in a circle at the back of the telescope, that form into a vertical line at the slit, to maximise the signal. In solar occultation, there is plenty of signal, so one thin fibre is enough to illuminate the detector with a good signal to noise ratio.

This image, from the front of the selector mechanism, shows the motor on the right (with 4 coloured wires) and its head with teeth, turning the wheel within the mechanism. This moves the ferrule with the nadir fibres at one end and the occultation fibre at the other. The opening closest to the camera will be at the spectrometer input on the flight model.

The alignment of the fibre(s) with the slit is very important to maximise the signal. This will be optimised, of course, but could change with launch vibrations. In order to check that the design is resistant to vibrations, this breadboard model will be vibrated at CSL facilities and the repeatability in the alignment of the fibres with the slit checked before and after.

Dust devil chasing

4 July 2013: Three researchers (Manish Patel, Jon Mason and Tim Ringrose) from The Open University braved the extreme heat of the desert for two weeks to conduct field research on terrestrial dust devils in the Eldorado Valley, Nevada. The aim was to measure the wavelength-dependent attenuation of the solar spectrum caused by the lofted dust particles in order to test the dust retrieval algorithms that will be required for future NOMAD-UVIS data analysis.

The instrumentation used in this study included two ultraviolet and visible spectrometers (similar to UVIS), a photodiode, a pressure sensor, a temperature sensor and high definition imaging cameras. The random nature of dust devil formation required our measuring platform to be mobile, thus the instruments were attached to the roof of a truck (as shown above). A game of ‘cat and mouse’ ensues with repeated attempts to chase down the dust devils and position the instruments in their path before they dissipate or move off the measurement area. An example of a dust devil encounter is shown in the following picture.

The fieldwork was a great success, with lots of data collected similar to what NOMAD-UVIS will provide from ExoMars. Now the team will analyse the data in slightly cooler conditions. 

NOMAD 3D print out

1 July 2013: For a recent Open Day at the Institute of Space Aeronomy, our engineers printed a 3D model of NOMAD at one third scale. The Computer Aided Design model had to be simplified to reduce the time it would take to print, but the structures are all visible. This was printed in several pieces - the cryoradiator is separate and can be lifted off to expose the inside of the LNO channel.

On the front, you can see the 3 periscopes that allow solar occultation viewing, as well as the holes for nadir observations. On the side, you can see the general radiator, that evacuates the heat from the SO and UVIS channels, and the electronics underneath.

This 1/3rd scale model fits on an A4 sheet of paper easily, and weighs only a few hundred grams, compared to nearly 30kg for the real NOMAD instrument.

ExoMars TGO satellite nears completion

18 June 2013: This breaking news story from the Paris Air Show about ExoMars TGO 2016. The satellite is almost finished, instruments (including NOMAD) must be delivered next year for spacecraft level testing, prior to January 2016 launch.


UVIS Breadboarding

24 May 2013 - UVIS breadboard photos! Below are two pictures of the UVIS instrument breadboarding activities. On the image on the left, we can see the spectrometer. The mass of pink cables are attached to the CCD detector, below which is the fibre optic input to the spectrometer. To the right of the image we see optical elements: mirrors and the grating. These are mounted on a carbon fibre plate, as will also be the case for the flight model.

The right-hand photo shows the UVIS telescopes. The larger one is for nadir viewing, where the field of view is 43'. The smaller one is the solar occultation telescope, shown near a 20cent coin for scale. One can see fibre optic bundles leaving both telescopes - thin for the solar occultation and thicker for nadir. These breadboards will be used to test optical alignment at various temperatures, as well as to demonstrate straylight measurements and correction.

NOMAD goes to India

6-10 May 2013 - NOMAD team members Ann Carine Vandaele, Rachel Drummond, Lori Neary and Séverine Robert participated in an Infra-red Spectroscopy for Planetary Atmospheres workshop in Bangalore, India. IASB-BIRA presented NOMAD, our radiative transfer code and GCM modelling activities. Indian researchers from various institutes presented work being carried out in India on many different planets, moons and instruments. We had very interesting, collaborative discussions with our new partners who are preparing a similar IR spectrometer for an Indian Mars mission.

ExoMars has its own blog

If you enjoy reading about NOMAD development activities, then you may also be interested in the ESA blog for ExoMars.


ESA and RosCosmos sign the agreement

14 March 2013 - ESA and RosCosmos have now finalised the agreement on their collaboration for ExoMars. The teams have already been working together for some time now, but top level decisions still needed to be ironed out.

More details on ESA Science website


Official Science Working Team Pictures

20 February 2013 - The ExoMars SWT made it onto the ESA news pages today. Two official pictures were taken, you can find one by clicking on ESA and one by clicking on Roscosmos!


ExoMars Science Working Team Meeting # 5 (or #1)

18 February 2013 - 12-15 February a joint Rover-EDM-TGO (2016 and 2018 missions) meeting was held at ESTEC in the Netherlands.

This is the 5th since ExoMars began, but the first with the new Russian instruments - i.e. the first since ExoMars became an ESA-RosCosmos endeavour. It was a great opportunity to hear about the new instruments and the development at the spacecraft level.

Left to Right: Giancarlo Bellucci (lead co-I from Italy), Manish Patel (lead co-I from the UK), Ozgur Karetekin (ROB-ORM), Rachel Drummond (IASB-BIRA), PI Ann-Carine Vandaele (IASB-BIRA) and Andre Debus, the ESA point of contact for the NOMAD team. We are in the 'Mars Yard' at ESTEC where they test drive the rover for the 2018 mission.

Eddy Neefs, Ann-Carine Vandaele and Rachel Drummond from IASB-BIRA and Manish Patel from the OU inside a model of the ESA ISS Colombus module.


Happy New Year !

31 January 2013 - NOMAD has been taking deliveries this month. Many items of space hardware have long lead times (they take a long time to be made) and so must be ordered well in advance. For NOMAD this includes both the infra-red and ultraviolet detectors, the motor mechanism included in the LNO channel that needs special lubricants for space use, the AOTF crystals and their electronics (radio frequency generators) and the echelle gratings - that are diamond turned, then coated with gold.

Some of the items we show here were ordered a year ago, as soon as the design was fixed. Now, they will be tested with other components to be sure they work as required. If not, there will be a lot of work to adapt the design, because getting new ones will be impossible before launch!

So: here are the small but necessary pieces that were ordered so long ago.


On the left is the AOTF - we can see the crystal through the entrance aperture. The box is black to minimise straylight issues. On the right is the gold coated engineering model of the echelle grating. Its holder is black, like the AOTF box, also to avoid straylight reflections.

On the left, the Infra-red detector, with associated cooler pump. The detector entrance window is protected here by the cut-off finger of a laboratory glove! This is just an engineering model for tests. The flight models are kept in an ultra clean room, for protection. On the right, the UV CCD, which is far smaller. This is just an engineering model. The flight versions should arrive in July 2013.

The flip mirror mechanism is shown on the left, with an example mirror mass attached and the electronics being tested to flip the mirror in and out of the light path. This is needed to swap from nadir viewing to solar occultation viewing. On the right is the first in a series of space-qualified motors that will be made by Thales. This is shown with the fingers of one of our engineers to give an idea of scale.

Christmas 2012

12 Dec 2012 - October and November have been busy months - with testing of an updated LNO prototype, as well as the telescopes of the UV channel. NOMAD's Belgian partners met to celebrate the end of a year full of challenges. A small lunch was held at IASB-BIRA in Brussels 11 December.

Members of the Science Team; left to right:Severine Robert, Yannick Willame and Rachel Drummond

New team members from the Royal Observatory of Brussels discuss with UVIS calibration engineer Cedric Depiesse from IASB-BIRA.


Testing of the UVIS prototype mirrors

The prototypes of the two UVIS telescopes (nadir and solar occultation) were completed in November. IASB-BIRA, OIP, Lambda-X and ESA completed a Test Readiness Review.

This is the test set-up at IASB-BIRA, where Lambda-X came to perform checks on the field of view of the telescopes - as well as examine the tranmission of the system at various wavelengths within UVIS's scientific domain of interest. The report on these test activities marks the end of Phase B activities for NOMAD. Phase C tasks have already begun - building up to CDR early next year!


NOMAD and TGO mentioned in The Hindu Times!

15 Nov 2012 - NOMAD cited in an article discussing the presence of methane on Mars.

The Hindu Times reports on the non detection of CH4 announced last week by the Curiosity team. Curiosity is not the last chance to look more closely for methane in the near future: ExoMars, and in particular NOMAD, are being prepared to this goal.

The complete article


Some news about Mars, methane, Curiosity and ExoMars TGO

5 Nov 2012 - Curiosity is looking hard to find some trace of methane. Up to now, nothing, or more precisely concentrations below the detection limit of the TDLS instrument. Implications for the ExoMars TGO? Nature examines the future possibilites to detect methane on Mars.

The complete article


NOMAD 4th SWT and ICD signature!

14 Sept 2012 - This Friday was a very good day for NOMAD! The 4th Science Working Team meeting was held in Frascati 13-14 September, with participation from members of the Russian instrument ACS development team. This was a very useful meeting that brought together a team who hadn't seen each other much in a year. Of course, 2011-2012 was a busy year for NOMAD with a lot of technical developlment work and documentation to produce. The technical update part of the meeting was a whole morning of presentations! We then discussed various science discoveries that influence the science that NOMAD will be performing in 2018, as well as ongoing work on the data pipeline.

But Friday afternoon was the breakthrough point. Throughout the years that ExoMars has existed, in various forms, 38 instruments have been selected. NOMAD is the first instrument on ExoMars to have a signed Interface Control Document. This major milestone occurred during a teleconference, attended by the PI and PM of NOMAD from ESRIN in Frascati, after which we could celebrate with excellent pasta and grappa!


NOMAD LNO Prototype Tests in themal-vacuum chambers in Liège

20-24 August 2012 - The LNO prototype underwent a week of thermal-vacuum tests at Centre Spatiale de Liège. This is the mock-up of the LNO channel seen before mounting in the cold chamber.

The white wrapping is multi-layer insulation (MLI) to insulate the cold spectrometer section (-100° C) from the parts outside it that sit at about zero degrees.

The instrument (cold and hot parts) is placed inside the thermal-vacuum chamber that will cool everything down to zero degrees and remove all air to simulate space conditions. We want to study how heat will be conducted (not radiated or convected) from hot to cold components in space - where there is no air, so this is the best way to get a representative result. You can see here NOMAD System Engineer Stefan Lesschaeve and CSL test engineer Tanguy Thibert in full clean-room gear. The instrument must be kept as clean as possible (no dust, hairs, grease etc.)

Once the instrument is safely installed, a cold shroud is placed around it and the part that must be cooled to -100° is attached to a liquid nitrogen supply. Optical engineers set up a laser outside the chamber to provide a light source for the instrument. In this way we can compare the signal measured at room temperature, 0°, -80°, -100° and -110°, back up to room temperature - examining the change in intensity of the signal (and background noise levels) but also the shape of the image. Since optical components may move or shrink slightly at such different temperatures, the shape of the image tells us as much as the intensity of the flux received at the detector.


NOMAD presented in India!

15-22 July 2012 - Members of the NOMAD team attended the Cospar International Conference in Mysore, India. They presented scientific results from the SOIR instrument on Venus Express, as well as the NOMAD instrument under development for ExoMars.

They made new contacts with members of ISAC, the Indian Space Research Organisation's Satellite Centre in Bangalore, where the Space Astronomy group is developing an instrument for an Indian mission to Mars that works in a similar way as NOMAD. A day of discussions was devoted to examining the different challenges each group has had to overcome and how to set up collaboration for the scientific benefit of both teams.

The team members also participated in a Venus Workshop in the far southern Indian state of Kerala.... Read More


LNO prototype testing - Test Readiness Review

2 July 2012 - This week the Test Readiness Review for the NOMAD LNO prototype takes place. The LNO channel is cryo-cooled - the spectrometer optics need to get down to -100 degrees C in order to decrease the thermal background and increase the signal to noise ratio. In order to cool just these optics, the baseplate has an insert for the cold section, insulated and isolated with multi-layer insulation and attached to a 4-layer radiator on the top of the spacecraft.

In order to check that the cryo-baseplate will shrink and expand with changing temperature easily with respect to the larger baseplate it is inserted in, and to check that the optics can be aligned at room temperature such that perfect image quality is obtained at -100 degrees, the cryo- and ambient temperature parts of the LNO channel were built in the cleanrooms at OIP. Shown here above is the alignment of the parabolic mirror and the grating at OIP.

This photo shows the full prototype that will be tested in the thermal-vacuum chambers at CSL. Some of the parts are spares from SOIR, and some are new components, ordered for this test. This is because some optical holder designs had to change to deal with the colder operating temperatures.

The Test Readiness Review is a review of the hardware and test plans and procedures to be certain that everything is ready to conduct the tests. The tests are expensive and time consuming, so the NOMAD team must be certain beforehand that the results will be representative of the NOMAD instrument.


Electronics testing in Granada

15 May 2012 - The electronics team from IASB-BIRA went to visit our partners in IAA in Granada, Spain for electronics testing last week. This is a very important step in the development of NOMAD, as the electronics that control the channels within NOMAD are developed in Belgium (infra-red channels) and the UK (UV-Vis channel), whereas the electronics that communicate from the instrument to the spacecraft are developed in Spain. It is vital to check that the electronics will interface correctly with each other (i.e. talk to each other!). There were 2 days of testing communication at various levels - from just the two boards, up to simulated channel data being sent all the way to a PC simulating the spacecraft.

Our Spanish colleagues also designed the power distribution board for the NOMAD instrument, and a prototype was brought back to Belgium to check that it can power up the infra-red detectors.


Public outreach in Gent

10 March 2012 - Our document manager and public outreach representative, Dr. Sofie Delanoye, gave a special presentation in Gent - not only about NOMAD but also about Venus. NOMAD's older sister, SOIR, is onboard the Venus Express satellite and has been making measurements since 2006. This year is a special year for Venus, since in June there will be a very rare event - a transit of Venus in front of the Sun. This will be visible from many points on the Earth and scientists from IASB-BIRA will participate in many public outreach activities on this occasion. Sofie presented Venus, the transit, the SOIR instrument as well as other IASB-BIRA planetary aeronomy activities to a very good turnout!

Armand Pien

The second two pictures come from the Volksterrenwacht Armand Pien, with thanks.

In other news: the NOMAD team has submitted all the documents necessary for ESA and TAS to prepare the Preliminary Design Review. This is a significant milestone in the development of a space instrument, and will be held in Brussels at the end of March.

Season's Greetings from NOMAD's international team

23 December 2011 - The NOMAD teams in various countries are preparing for a well earned Christmas and New Year break before the 'final push' to Preliminary Design Review in March next year. It's going to be very busy the first quarter of 2012, in order to ensure that all the design reports are finished and all documentation prepared to prove to ESA that NOMAD is on track for the launch in January 2016.

The IFSI team in Italy gather to wish you Buon Natale!

The Open University team in the UK wishes you a Merry Christmas

The team at Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, Spain say 'Felix Navidad' with style!

Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année from the team at CSL, Belgium.

The BIRA-IASB (Belgium) NOMAD team wishes you Prettige Feestdagen/ Joyeuses Fêtes.


Electronics working session at MSSL, UK

24 November 2011 - The central NOMAD 'computer' and onboard software is being designed and will be built at IAA in Spain. But electronics within the infra-red and UV channels are developed separately (according to heritage electronics from previous space proven hardware) at the OU, UK and IASB- BIRA in Belgium. In order to make sure that all the hardware and software are compatible with each other IAA, IASB-BIRA and OU personnel went to MSSL (an OU electronics sub-contractor) for an electronics meeting. MSSL is part of UCL set out in the beautiful Surrey countryside in southern England, in an old country house. The meeting was held in the old library and lunch was enjoyed on the terrace, despite the chilly November weather.

The meeting was the first between the Spanish and British electronics teams and a lot of topics were discussed. The collaboration promises to be challenging but fruitful.

Education and Public Outreach Presentation at MIRA

22 October 2011 - Our Dutch speaking EPO officer Sofie Delanoye gave a presentation about NOMAD and ExoMars at MIRA. Interest from the general public in our work is very important to the NOMAD team, and Sofie will be giving more presentations in the future. They will be listed on the public outreach page (available in all languages). If you'd like to have NOMAD presented at your organisation, or school, contact the EPO team as described on the outreach page. Presentations can be arranged in French, Dutch or English.

MIRA presentationMIRA thanks Sofie

Scientists from the NOMAD Team at DPS-EPSC - SWT3 Meeting

3-7 October 2011 - Scientists from the NOMAD Team were present at the DPS-EPSC meeting held in Nantes (France) last week. During the meeting two talks on the instrument and its scientific objectives were given :

the NOMAD instrument: description and status of the instrument, its 3 channels (SO, LNO, and UVIS), description of the observation modes, partners involved

the NOMAD science objectives: using all 3 channels and different observation modes (solar occultation and nadir mapping)

The SWT3 meeting was also held during the DPS-EPSS benefitting from the presence of several of our international co-Is. Discussions about the resolution of UVIS and the possible detection of SO2 were held. T. Clancy and M. Wolff gave a very instructive presentation on the determination of ozone and aerosols from the UV spectral range, giving some insights on the science that will be derived from the UVIS channel.



31 August 2011

UVIS Lead Co-I Dr Manish Patel spent 2 days at BISA at the end of August to discuss scientific and technical developments of the UVIS instrument for the ExoMars TGO satellite. There were many topics up for discussion - such as how to optimise the size of the nadir viewing telescope, how to foresee calibration of this when TGO is in orbit around Mars, and the requirements that should be placed on the temperature of the instrument.

Though a powerful UV-Visible instrument, UVIS may only occupy 125x165x95mm and weigh 550g, so the challenges are numerous!

5 August 2011

An exciting discovery made with the HiRISE instrument (a US-Swiss collaboration) on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (NASA) was announced today. Their high-resolution images, taken over several years and examining different seasons, show traces of liquid water flowing on Mars! These flows are seen during the southern hemisphere summer, on steep sides of craters that reach very warm temperatures (for the surface of Mars).
water on Mars

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

It is still too cold, and the atmospheric pressure too low, for this to be pure water. It would need to be brine (water saturated with salt). This is exciting news for the Trace Gas Orbiter 2016, because a followup instrument to HiRISE - this time called HiSci - is onboard alongside NOMAD. Follow up images will be possible and perhaps NOMAD will be able to obtain infra-red spectra of the evaporation of these flows and determine if it really is water!


25 June 2011

ESA was present at the 49th international Salon of Aeronautics and Space held at The Bourget near Paris from the 20 to 26 June 2011. ESA had one entire wall dedicated to ExoMars, the 2016 orbiter and EDL and the 2018 rover mission.

More ...

23 June 2011

NOMAD was present with 2 posters describing the instrument and its scientific objectives at the inauguration of the "Cradle of Life" exhibition, held at the Museum of Natural Sciences (Brussels) on 23rd June. The exhibition was hosted by the European Science Foundation and COST - European Cooperation in Science and Technology, as part of the celebrations of the International Year of Chemistry. The Exhibition explored how chemistry is providing clues to two of the great unanswered scientific questions: How did life begin on Earth? Is there life elsewhere in the Universe?

For more info on the COST actions in Belgium

10 June 2011

ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter is a close collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the United States of America. NOMAD is the only instrument selected for the payload with a European PI. As such it is harder for NASA to take into account the needs of NOMAD when they hold discussions about, for example, the Science Operations Centre. In such cases, NASA assigns an Investigation Scientist to represent the instrument. NOMAD has been assigned Dr. Michael Mischna, a scientist at JPL working on Mars atmospheric modelling. He came over for the NOMAD SWT2 and we organised a separate meeting to acquaint him better with the NOMAD team and the instrument itself.

IASB-BIRA Head of Engineering, Eddy Neefs, shows the spare model of SOIR to Michael Mischna and the NASA TGO Project Scientist, Mark Allen.

It is a pleasure and an honour to have Michael working with us to ensure NOMAD and its team maximise their synergy with the NASA instruments and their teams.

9-10 June 2011

6 months after the first NOMAD Science Working Team meeting was held in Granada, Spain (see below), it was the turn of the PI country, Belgium, to organise a meeting. The Belgian Scientific Policy Office in Avenue Louise hosted the scientists and engineers of the NOMAD team from around the world for an update on the technical status of the instrument development, discussions on important decisions and presentations on science relevant to the preparation of the Trace Gas Orbiter mission to Mars.

One of the most important areas of scientific preparation is radiative transfer. Radiative transfer is the name given to the way radiation passes through an atmosphere - being absorbed, scattered, (re)emitted. Several of the partner institutes have their own radiative transfer code and we are looking at how similar the results of a common situation are, and trying to understand any differences. The groups have varying levels of expertise in infra-red and UV-visible modelling and with nadir or occultation measurements. Since NOMAD can observe in both wavelength regions and in perform both nadir and occultation measurements, a wide variety of code will be used to analyse the data when we finally receive it, sometime in 2017!

It was not all work and no play, however, as we took our team to enjoy typical Belgian fare Aux Armes de Bruxelles.

17 May 2011

NOMAD is part of the payload on the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. The spacecraft should be inserted into a 400km orbit around Mars. But of course, errors can always occur, and orbit trajectory modification is far from simple - in fact it is rocket science. Since Mars may have extinct or extant life and traces thereof, and in fact one of the goals of ExoMars is the search for proof of this, any mission to Mars must comply with strict planetary protection guidelines. This is to be certain that no contamination from Earth is sent there. This means that all parts of the NOMADinstrument must be cleaned with special alcohol, or heated to kill bacteria, and that the clean rooms must follow very strict rules to keep the equipment clean. In order to understand the challenges facing the NOMAD team, our partners from Spain, Italy and industry all need to follow special training. Our partners in the UK, at OU, are already experts since they built Beagle 2.

On the 17th May a Planetary protection level 0 and 1 course was held at IASB-BIRA in Brussels. The course was given by Gerhard Kminek from ESA/ESTEC - an expert in Planetary Protection issues.

PP1Images from Beagle 2 PP procedures

Some members of the team will also need to follow higher level training later in the year.

2 May 2011

At the end of April an update meeting was held at the Open University campus in Milton Keynes, UK. NOMAD team members from IASB-BIRA and representatives of Lambda-X attended a meeting on the preliminary design of new telescope optics for the UVIS channel of NOMAD.


We took advantage of our visit to peek at the impressive clean rooms set up at the OU for the first ExoMars lander concept (Humboldt was cancelled 2 years ago, but the OU had already built a prototype of UVIS for this lander). We also saw the electronics boards under development to read out the new UVIS detector and the selector motor that will choose between the two fibre optics cables - one from the wide field of view nadir telescope and one from the narrow field of view solar occultation telescope.


21 March 2011

The NOMAD PI and co-PI attended the 2nd OSWT last week at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA. The choice of the orbit inclination for the ExoMars Trace Gas orbiter was the subject of intense discussion, and the value of 74° was finally decided upon, allowing both for good coverage in both solar occultation and nadir . The method to follow in order to best align the two instruments performing solar occultation observations, NOMAD and MATMOS, was also discussed.

We were shown the Mars Yard where the MSL Curiosity rover is being tested. A dummy rocky Mars surface has been reconstructed to check the capabilities of the rover.

16 February 2011

The NOMAD Science Team was well represented at the Fourth Mars Atmospheric Modelling and Observation Workshop, held in Paris 8-11 February. The PI - Ann Carine- presented NOMAD to the scientific community, and all the other instruments on ExoMars TGO 2016 also gave presentations. The week was dedicated to discussion of latest measurements, analyses and results, as well as improvements in circulation models that attempt to explain what the various instruments observe at the Red Planet. We took advantage of this meeting to hold a small NOMAD team meeting, and we enjoyed a wonderful dinner during a cruise on the Seine.

12 January 2011

The NOMAD team at BISA wishes you all a very Happy New Year. All the best in your endeavours. This year NOMAD will go to Preliminary Design Review. This is a huge milestone in the development of the instrument that takes place at the ESA/ESTEC offices in the Netherlands in the last quarter of this year. So NOMAD has an exciting and challenging year ahead.

Happy NY

Shown here (standing) are Roland, Emiel, Bojan, Dennis, Ann-Carine, Arnaud, Séverine, Yannick, Lori, David, Sofie, Sabrina, Jeroen and Eddy and (squatting) Eddy and Rachel at the BISA New Year reception.

3 December 2010

30 November and 1 December marked the first NOMAD Science Working Team meeting. It took place in Granada, Spain where our collaborators at IAA are based. Co-PI Jose Juan Lopez-Moreno did a wonderful job of organising the workshop and his warm welcome was much appreciated. The location was beautiful, but the weather somewhat disappointing. Lots of rain is uncharacteristic for December there; of course northern Europe was dealing with snow chaos!

On the first day presentations covered details of the SOIR instrument on Venus Express and the UVIS instrument as developed for the ExoMars Humboldt package. BISA engineers gave an update on the technology developments underway for NOMAD and our PI Ann-Carine presented the status of the project in terms of management, funding and responsiblities. We then heard from representatives from each contributing institute about the work they are currently doing on various other data from instruments observing Mars. There were ground-based studies, analysis of instruments from Mars Express and discussion of different models run at the different institutes. We also discussed the other instruments on the Trace Gas orbiter, the orbit being used and all the science that would be possible with the instrument suite. Above all, this was the first time we all met each other, having previously communicated only by email. The conference dinner was a lively, fun affair at the Mirador San Nicolas opposite the imposing Alhambra.

The pictures here show the workshop at the end of day two, during the final wrap up presentations.



18 October 2010

Last week 3 important meetings were held in the United States. The first was with a company that built a vital part of the SOIR instrument for Venus Express and who we would like to build the same part for the two NOMAD infra-red channels - Bach Research. They are based in Boulder, Colorado - a small town in the Rockies. The next meetings were held at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory - a NASA research centre run by the California Institute of Technology and based just outside Pasadena in California. Three NOMAD team members went out to these meetings: NOMAD PI (Principle Investigator) Ann-Carine Vandaele, Deputy Project Manager Rachel Drummond (both from IASB-BIRA) and a representative of our prime industrial contractor (OIP), Lieve de Vos.

Our meeting with Bach Research was very interesting. The SOIR grating was their first grating for a space mission, but since then they have been involved in many space projects and have made incredible developments that will be of use to the NOMAD project (and maybe others that OIP are working on - Lieve was very pleased to have met them). Here are Ann-Carine and Rachel with Kirk Bach - Vice President of Bach Research, along with 2 example gratings built in Boulder.


The first meeting at JPL was the kickoff meeting. This was the first time that we had met the PIs of the other 4 instruments that will be on the trace gas orbiter. The presentations covered how NASA and ESA will manage the project on either side of the Atlantic and how reviews will be run. Then there were more technical disucssions about joint observations and conflicts between instruments in terms of power and telemetry requirements.

On the second day we attended the first Orbiter Science Working Team (OSWT) meeting. This was a much smaller group and we talked in more detail about how the instruments would be generating data and how this would be processed on the ground after reception. This continued into a spectroscopic discussion between NOMAD team members and the other 2 teams who have spectrometer instruments. We even managed to visit the clean room where the latest Mars rover was having an instrument inserted into it. Very exciting to see! We all went out for dinner in Pasadena - as seen in the photo below.


10 Sept 2010

UVIS team at Lambda-X

Part of the NOMAD instrument suite is a UV - Visible spectrometer developed by the Open University in the UK for the (cancelled) ExoMars lander mission. For the new ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter project we are seeking expertise in Belgium to update thermal, mechanical and optical models of this instrument, and adapt it for use on an orbiter. This involves the design of new entrance optics (small telescopes for nadir and solar viewing). For this, we went to visit Lambda-X in Nivelles, a company whose expertise in optical design and development has already won them contracts from many companies, and from the European Space Agency. They showed us designs they have previously worked on and gave us a tour of their facilities. Then the UVIS experts from the UK presented their instrument designs to Lambda-X and we discussed which parts of the project they could help out with. The meeting was very productive and we are looking forward to a constructive collaboration.

Previous projects

5 august 2010

ExoMars as a mission concept has existed for a while and has gone through various redesigns due to budgetary problems. The latest development is the splitting of the ambitious Mars exploration comprised in ExoMars into 2 missions.
The Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) mission of 2016 is the first that will be sent. Two years later, in the next launch window for Mars, 2 rovers will be sent.

The ExoMars missions are a collaborative effort between ESA and NASA, with each agency supplying parts of the missions. Ffor TGO, NASA and ESA carried out their first ever joint instrument selection. This meant that teams such as the one here at BIRA-IASB had 3 months from 15 January 2010 when the Announcement of Opportunity appeared online to prepare a document explaining everything their instrument could do, what it would weigh, what power it needs and who would pay for it, build it and analyse the data that comes back from it. This was very intense work for a small team of scientists and engineers here at BIRA-IASB and in our partner institutes across Europe and the American continent. In total 19 teams sent in a proposal. NASA and ESA analysed these proposals for scientific merit, technical feasibility and risk. In the end, 5 instruments were chosen:
NOMAD was one of them.

The celebration was huge; but now the real work of building the instrument to the very stringent space requirements begins. We are all excited and just a bit apprehensive of the amount of work ahead.

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