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 it is 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.


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.