Athena Mars rover science investigation



[1] Each Mars Exploration Rover carries an integrated suite of scientific instruments and tools called the Athena science payload. The primary objective of the Athena science investigation is to explore two sites on the Martian surface where water may once have been present, and to assess past environmental conditions at those sites and their suitability for life. The remote sensing portion of the payload uses a mast called the Pancam Mast Assembly (PMA) that provides pointing for two instruments: the Panoramic Camera (Pancam), and the Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer (Mini-TES). Pancam provides high-resolution, color, stereo imaging, while Mini-TES provides spectral cubes at mid-infrared wavelengths. For in-situ study, a five degree-of-freedom arm called the Instrument Deployment Device (IDD) carries four more tools: a Microscopic Imager (MI) for close-up imaging, an Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) for elemental chemistry, a Mössbauer Spectrometer (MB) for the mineralogy of Fe-bearing materials, and a Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) for removing dusty and weathered surfaces and exposing fresh rock underneath. The payload also includes magnets that allow the instruments to study the composition of magnetic Martian materials. All of the Athena instruments have undergone extensive calibration, both individually and using a set of geologic reference materials that are being measured with all the instruments. Using a MER-like rover and payload in a number of field settings, we have devised operations processes that will enable us to use the MER rovers to formulate and test scientific hypotheses concerning past environmental conditions and habitability at the landing sites.