Frequently Asked Questions

Mars Regolith Simulant

  1. Does it come from Mars?
  2. Why is it called "Regolith"?
  3. How was Mojave Mars Simulant (MMS) developed?
  4. How similar is MMS to Mars?
  5. Does MMS contain Perchlorate Salts?
  6. Is MMS Safe?
  7. How is MMS made?
  8. What is the difference between MMS-1 and MMS-2?
  9. How is MMS-2 made?
  10. How much simulant is required to fill a container of a certain size?
  11. How much does Mars regolith simulant cost?

Mars Regolith Simulant

1.1. Does it come from Mars?

NoActual Martian soil - or "Regolith" - has never been returned to Earth. Mars regolith simulants are aggregates (crushed blends) of Earth materials which have been selected for their chemical similarity to the crust of Mars.

1.2. Why is it called "Regolith" instead of "Soil"?

The terms "Soil" and "Dirt" have specific meanings - here on Earth. For example, "Soil" refers to a mixture of eroded rocks and minerals, clay and loam, decayed organic material, and a robust ecosystem of soil bacteria, fungi, insects and more.

"Regolith", on the other hand, refers to any loose, eroded material that is found on the surface of any planetary body. For example, the loose, dust-to-gravel sized sands that cover the surface of Mars are known as Mars Regolith. Similarly, the fine dusty material on the surface of Earth's Moon is known as lunar regolith. There's also Venusian regolith, Plutonian Regolith, and even Asteroid Regolith. 

1.3. How/Where/When was Mojave Mars Simulant (MMS) developed?

In 2007, NASA and JPL Scientists developing the robotic scoop of the Mars Phoenix lander discovered that the Mars simulant available at the time (Orbitech JSC-Mars 1) had a tendency to rapidly absorb water. Because searching for water ice was Phoenix' primary mission, a new simulant was required to more closely simulate the surface of Mars.

The In Situ Instrument Systems and Planetary Science sections of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), led by Dr. Gregory Peters, set out to create a new Mars simulant. They selected Saddleback basalt, an iron-rich igneous rock found in an ancient volcano in the Mojave desert, as a source material. Whole rocks were crushed, then separated into different sizes of particles.

1.4. How similar is MMS to Mars?

Earth and Mars are both rocky, terrestrial planets, and are geologically similar in many ways. The crusts of both planets are principally composed of Silicate minerals, such as quartz, that are made up of silicon and oxygen. After silicates, the next most dominant minerals are iron oxide and aluminum oxide. On Earth, aluminum oxide is more common than iron oxide; on Mars, iron oxide is more dominant than aluminum oxide. This important difference is what gives Mars its red color, and is one of the most important differences between Earth and Mars.

The original Mojave Mars Simulant is composed of an igneous rock - basalt - that has a higher concentration of iron than many other igneous rocks on Earth. This gives the material a reddish color like Mars, and changes the aluminum-iron ratio to a value closer to that found on Mars.

1.5. Does MMS contain perchlorates?

No. Although perchlorate salts have recently been identified on Mars, exposure has been linked to thyroid problems in humans. It would be unsafe for our customers and our staff to handle perchlorate salts without personal protective equipment. 

If your research requires the use of perchlorate salts in your simulant, we recommend adding either calcium or magnesium perchlorate to MMS-2 Enhanced Mars Simulant at a 0.006:0.994 gram-to-gram ratio. 

1.6. Is MMS Safe?

Mojave Mars Simulant is crushed basalt - an extremely common, naturally occuring, non-toxic igneous rock. Small particles of basalt are present in all grades of MMS and can be a particulate inhalation hazard. Use respiratory and eye protection when working with large, dry quantities of MMS.

1.7. How is MMS Made?

We produce Mojave Mars Simulant using techniques and sources developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for the Mars Phoenix Mission. We start with whole rocks and boulders of Saddleback Basalt, an iron-rich igneous rock. These are crushed to a mixture of grades that range from gravel to fine dust. Mixed material is then sift-separated into three different size grades, bake-sterilized, packaged and vacuum-sealed.

1.8. What's the difference between MMS-1 and MMS-2?

MMS-1 is the original Mojave Mars Simulant, developed by the JPL for the Mars Phoenix Mission. We use the same techniques and source material identified in the original NASA research.

MMS-2 is an Enhanced Mars Simulant. We start with Super Fine Grade MMS-1, then add iron III oxide, silicate minerals, sulfates, and magnesium oxide. These additives enhance the chemical similarity of MMS-2, making it as close to Mars as possible.

1.9. How is MMS-2 Made?

Enhanced Mojave Mars Simulant 2 (MMS-2) is a chemically enriched blend of Mars regolith simulant. Based on MMS-1, we add Iron III Oxide, Silicon Dioxide, Magnesium Oxide and Calcium Oxide. The addition of these compounds changes the Aluminum Oxide : Iron Oxide ratio. This ratio is critical - on Earth, aluminum oxides are dominant, while iron oxides are more abundant on Mars. By changing the Al:Fe Ratio, we can get MMS-2 closer to the chemical composition of Mars than any other Martian simulant.

1.10 How much simulant is required to fill a container of a certain size?

The best way to determine how much simulant your project will require is to first determine the volume of the containers or area you'll be filling with material - measure the container's length, width, and height, then multiply all three - length x width x height. Then, multiply the volume of your container by the density of the simulant grade you'll be using (see below). For example, to completely fill a 4' x 4' x 1' box with fine grade material (66lb/ft3), you'd need (4x4x1)x66 = 1,056 pounds of fine grade MMS-1.


1.11 How much does Mars regolith simulant cost?

Our simulant ranges starts at about $2 per pound, depending on quantity and grade. Per pound prices decrease with quantity, and discounts are available for educators, researchers, and museums. If you're planning a project that requires large quantities of Mars regolith simulant, please don't hesitate to contact us.