Welsh-built Enfys Spectrometer Embarks on Mars Quest for Signs of Life

27th Nov 2023
Welsh-built Enfys Spectrometer Embarks on Mars Quest for Signs of Life

A cutting-edge scientific apparatus from Wales is poised to spearhead the quest for life on Mars as the decade draws to a close. Enfys, named after the Welsh word for “rainbow,” is an infrared spectrometer crafted at Aberystwyth University. It’s slated to be an integral component of the European Space Agency’s Rosalind Franklin rover, set for a launch toward the Red Planet in 2028.

Enfys To Revolutionise Martian Exploration

Enfys will integrate with the rover’s suite of camera systems, augmenting its capability to pinpoint rocks ripe for drilling and probing for traces of ancient biology. The development cost, totalling £10.7m ($13.4m), is set to be disclosed by science minister Andrew Griffith at the forthcoming UK Space Conference in Belfast, marking a pivotal milestone in Martian exploration.

Replacing the Russian Infrared Spectrometer

Roscosmos had previously been a partner on the mission, but all its hardware was offloaded from the rover by the European Space Agency in protest at the Kremlin’s broad-scale invasion of Ukraine. Enfys will be a direct replacement in terms of mass and volume and moreover will carry several technical updates.

Enfys (white box) sits under the main camera system, Pancam (blue). Credit: bbc.com
Enfys (white box) sits under the main camera system, Pancam (blue). Credit: bbc.com

Enfys matches its predecessor’s mass and volume while incorporating several technical updates, elevating the scientific prospects of the mission.

Enfys’ belated inclusion allows a reevaluation of performance requirements, particularly expanding its infrared sensitivity range. This enhancement bridges the gap between Pancam’s observations and the capabilities of the older Russian spectrometer, which is vital for identifying organic matter-preserving clay minerals.

Collective Efforts

Assisted by diverse institutions, including University College London, STFC RAL Space, and Qioptiq Ltd., Aberystwyth University leads Enfys’ development. The £10.7m investment strengthens the UK’s substantial contribution to the Rosalind Franklin rover, totalling £377m.

Enfys development at Aberystwyth University. Credit: bbc.com
Enfys development at Aberystwyth University. Credit: bbc.com

Dr. Paul Bate, chief executive of the UK Space Agency, hails the UK’s technological prowess in Martian exploration. Not only does it further our comprehension of Mars and its potential for life, but this added funding also fosters collaboration within the rapidly expanding UK space sector, bolstering the nation’s economy and technological frontiers.

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