News story

£1.67 million awarded to planetary exploration projects

2015 Aurora awardees announced.

Mars depicted by the Rosetta spacecraft.
Mars depicted by the Rosetta spacecraft. Credit: ESA.

The UK Space Agency is pleased to announce that 7 proposals have been awarded funding, totalling £1.67 million, for research related to ESA’s planetary exploration programme.

A high volume of bids of an excellent standard were received, highlighting the diverse and skilled nature of the UK’s internationally recognised planetary science.

The successful applicants include Prof Andrew Coates (MSSL), Dr Susan Conway (The Open University), Dr Kerri Donaldson-Hanna (Oxford University), Prof Sanjeev Gupta (Imperial College), Prof Mark Sephton (Imperial College), Prof Tom Pike (Imperial College) and Dr Nick Teanby (University of Bristol).

Dr Susan Conway at the Open University said:

I am delighted to receive an Aurora Fellowship from the UK Space Agency and I am particularly looking forward to taking an active role in the ESA TGO and the NASA InSight missions to Mars. With so many missions in the pipeline it is an exciting time to be working in planetary science and it’s great to be in the thick of it. This fellowship will give me the chance to study some of the most fascinating active surface processes on Mars with some of the newest orbital and landed instruments.

Professor Mark Sephton of Imperial College said:

The search for life on Mars is being hampered by minerals. The most common way to extract life’s remains from rock is to tease them out with heat. However, when Mars rocks are heated they react with organic matter and destroy potential evidence of alien biology. The funding from the UK Space Agency will allow development of workaround solutions to the problems posed by minerals on Mars. With the right experiments and the understanding they provide, any records of alien life on the red planet will become accessible.

The Aurora Science Review Panel was as follows: Dr Richard Ambrosi (University of Leicester), Dr Pete Grindrod (University College London), Professor David Rothery (Open University),Professor Sara Russell (Natural History Museum), and was Chaired by Professor Fred Taylor (University of Oxford).

Details of successful proposals are as follows:

Principal Investigator Institution Project Title Total Awarded (£)
Prof Andrew Coates MSSL Preparation for ExoMars PanCam 80,733
Dr Susan Conway The Open University Steepland Geomorphology on Mars: preparation for exploitation of ExoMars orbiter and the InSight missions 248,480
Dr Kerri Donaldson-Hanna Oxford University Understanding the Building Blocks of Solar System Primitive Bodies in Anticipation of Asteroid and Mars Sample Return 318,740
Prof Sanjeev Gupta Imperial College Sedimentological reconstruction of ancient habitable environments on the lower slopes of Mount Sharp, Gale crater, Mars, by the Curiosity rover 129,093
Prof Mark Sephton Imperial College Organic Matter and the Minerals of Mars 351,480
Prof Tom Pike Imperial College Preparing for SEIS-SP on Mars through field testing and time-series analysis 302,688
Dr Nick Teanby University of Bristol Short Period Seismology with the InSight Microseismometer 237,121
Total     1,668,335
Published 19 March 2015