Examples of science activities at Malin Space Science Systems.

Malin Space Science Systems personnel design, build, operate, and conduct research with space cameras and other interplanetary instruments. MSSS scientists are involved in all of these efforts. For example, they work with research colleagues to define space camera functional requirements, they contribute to the management of space camera development and calibration efforts, and they are an integral part of the company’s day-to-day camera operation effort.

MSSS personnel have research backgrounds in geology, geophysics, geomorphology, computer sciences, planetary and stellar astronomy, oceanographic research, infrared spectroscopy and remote sensing, and aerospace engineering. MSSS staff are or have been members of science teams for spacecraft that have explored or soon will examine Mars, the Moon, Venus, asteroids, and other bodies in our Solar System. Mars has been a main area of emphasis, with MSSS staff working as team members on Mars orbiters, landers, and rover missions.

Science products and services at MSSS include:

  • A hypothesis-testing approach to tactical and strategic operation of space cameras for downlink data volume-efficient targeting and acquisition of images that address key research questions (e.g., about Mars).

  • Tactical and strategic operations science support for a variety of flyby, orbital, and landed space flight missions.

  • Reporting of publicly funded research results in journals and at scientific conferences and workshops.

  • Sharing of space camera results and observations, including Mars weather reports, through the MSSS web site and other publicly accessible media and venues, including occasional education and public outreach events.

Key MSSS scientific research results include (but are not limited to):

  • Observation of the layered nature of the upper Martian crust, including the filling, burying, and subsequent exhumation (or partial exhumation) of ancient valleys and craters that are in some cases several hundred kilometers across.

  • Documentation of many hundreds of sedimentary rock exposures on the surface of Mars, most of which were unknown—and none of which were characterized as “rock”—before the MSSS-operated Mars Orbiter Camera began systematic imaging efforts in 1999.

  • Discovery of the fossil remains of a Martian river delta, providing “smoking gun” evidence for persistent flow of a liquid, interpreted to be water—and deposition of sediment by that liquid—on ancient Mars.

  • Discovery of rapid landscape change in the martian south polar residual cap each southern summer as frozen carbon dioxide (CO2) leaves the cap, enters the atmosphere, and might be causing a slow rise in the amount of this CO2 in the atmosphere over recent decades or centuries.

  • The first documentation of new impact craters forming on Mars today from meteorites hitting the planet; this observation presented the first opportunity to determine the present-day cratering rate (vital to estimating the age of surfaces) for an object in the Solar System using actual newly-formed impact craters.

  • Documentation of more than half a Martian decade (> 10 Earth years) of Martian meteorological events, including several planet-encircling dust storms, recognition that many weather phenomena repeat each year, observations suggesting that there is no such thing as a “dust storm season” on Mars, and cataloguing of tens of thousands of individual dust-raising events.

  • Discovery and cataloging of tens of thousands of youthful gullies on Mars—perhaps formed by liquid water and transport of debris by liquid water—some of which MSSS scientists suggest may still be active today.