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Mars regolith simulant

Designing for Mars

Mars presents unique challenges for spacecraft that hope to land on its surface. Its atmosphere is too thin to be very helpful for slowing down, but it's also just thick enough to be a problem. Temperature can vary wildly between day and night, and global dust storms can blot out the sun for weeks at a time. 

The surface of Mars is covered by sand and dust, formed by the erosion of iron-rich igneous rocks that are similar to basalt.  Known as "Regolith", this material can be coarse, or fine, or an incredibly fine powderlike dust. Carried by the wind and suspended in the atmosphere, this dust poses a constant risk to hardware on the surface of Mars. Solar panels can be covered, intake filters can clog, and moving parts can lock. On future manned missions, the Martian regolith could even pose health threats to astronauts if not properly mitigated.

Technology sent to other planets is only as good as the environments they are tested against. Landers, rovers, solar panels and robot arms all have to be tested for their ability to withstand the conditions found on the surface of Mars. Since no Martian regolith has ever been returned to Earth, scientists needed a way to simulate what they think the surface of Mars is like, and see how their designs held up to the challenge.

 


Searching for Simulants

Simulating the surface of Mars accurately requires a material that has a different iron-to-aluminum ratio than most igneous rocks found on Earth. 

To support Mars missions, NASA has developed several different types of Mars regolith simulant. The first, JSC-Mars 1, was developed in 1997 based on the lessons of the Viking and Pathfinder missions. JSC-Mars 1 was composed of a material known as palagonitic tephra. This material forms when basaltic lava flows into a body of water, creating clouds of steam that carried rapidly cooling droplets of molten rock into the air, forming spherules of basalt. One place this material accumulated was near the Pu'u Nene cinder cone in Hawaii - the source of JSC-Mars 1.

As we learned more about Mars, NASA and the JPL Needed a new simulant that was more accurate in the way it behaved when exposed to water. This led to the development of Mojave Mars Simulant during the Mars Phoenix mission. Saddleback mountain, an ancient volcano in the Mojave desert. 20 million years ago, a basaltic lava flow erupted from the slopes of Saddleback mountain, creating the Saddleback basalt deposit. This iron-rich rock formed the source of Mojave Mars Simulant.


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Making Mars

We use the original NASA/JPL research to guide our production of Mojave Mars Simulant to ensure that our MMS-1 is the same cutting-edge material used by scientists and engineers around the world.

First, we obtain raw materials - rocks and boulders from the exact same deposit of Saddleback Basalt used by the JPL. These rocks are transported to our Texas site where they're pressure-washed to remove any contaminants from transport or processing.

Whole rocks of saddleback basalt are crushed to a mixture of particles ranging from fine powder to coarse gravel. This aggregate is then sift sorted three times over to separate it into coarse, fine, and superfine grades of simulant.

After crushing and sorting, each batch is sterilized by baking before being inspected, vacuum-sealed, labelled and packed, waiting for your project to bring it to life.

 

 

Mojave Mars Simulant

MMS Mojave Mars Simulant is based on NASA and JPL research and on data straight from the Red Planet. Here's how it stacks up against real Mars regolith.

Use the interactive charts below to compare Mars and our simulant. Tap or Mouseover the chart sections to see the concentration of each component in Mars Regolith and Mojave Mars Simulant. Mars Data is an average based on Pathfinder, Spirit, and Opportunity mission data. 

 

Mars

MMS-2

MMS-1


 

Mars Facts

Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun. Its orbit takes it from 128 million miles out to about 155 million miles over the course of its 687-day long year. The length of the day on Mars is 24 hours and 40 minutes, completing a rotation around its axis in just slightly more time than Earth. Mars has a thin atmosphere - only about 0.6% as dense as Earth's - that is dominated by Carbon Dioxide. During summer days, the surface of Mars can reach temperatures as high as 70F; during winter nights, temperatures can plunge to -243F. Its rocky, dusty surface is dominated by igneous rocks, erosion products, and some sedimentary rocks. Mars has polar ice caps made of frozen water, and it's covered by valleys, deltas, and glacier scars - in its past, Mars was a wetter planet than today. In the past few decades, we've uncovered evidence that water exists in deposits around the planet - sometimes in great abundance. There's even evidence of seasonal flows of briny, liquid water in some craters.

Overall, Mars is the most Earthlike planet in the Solar System. It's this similarity that makes it most likely to be humanity's next home as we venture into the cosmos.