It's Time for Focused In Situ Studies of Planetary Surface-Atmosphere Interactions

Serina Diniega, Nathan Barba, Louis Giersch, Brian Jackson, Alejandro Soto, Don Banfield, MacKenzie Day, Gary Doran, Colin M. Dundas, Michael Mischna, Scot Rafkin, Isaac Smith, Rob Sullivan, Christy Swann, Timothy Titus, Ian Walker, Jacob Widmer, Devon Burr, Lukas Mandrake, Nathalie VriendKaj Williams

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

2 Scopus citations


A critical gap in planetary observations has been in situ characterization of extra-terrestrial, present-day atmospheric and surface environments and activity. While some surface activity has been observed and some in situ meteorological measurements have been collected by auxiliary instruments on Mars, existing information is insufficient to conclusively characterize the natural processes via concurrent and high-resolution measurement of environmental drivers and activity. Thus, many atmospheric, aeolian, and other surface processes models-which are used to generate key constraints on science and exploration in many areas of planetary investigation-such as surface exposure/erosion estimates, landscape interpretation, and modeling dust storm development-remain untested under non-Earth conditions. Analogous terrestrial processes are often studied intensively via numerical modeling that integrates empirical results from laboratory and/or field studies of process-response interactions between the atmosphere and relevant surface landforms. Incorporation of such in situ measurements into model development has significantly advanced our understanding of atmosphere-surface interactions and related geomorphic processes on Earth, and is poised to do so on other planets. However, to date, such testing and refinement have not been possible in other planetary environments, partially because investigations of this sort require new technologies, mission architectures, and operations designs (e.g., different from large rovers focused on geochemical investigations) to fully address the key gaps in our understanding while keeping cost and risk low. Fortunately, technological developments in the areas of surface access, instrumentation, and onboard processing/memory now enable small spacecraft to accommodate meteorological and aeolian instrumentation that could collect the needed measurements to fill this critical gap while remaining within typical small spacecraft resource budgets. Furthermore, maturity of our understanding of the broader geologic and atmospheric context on Mars provides a ready framework for ingestion of discrete ground truth measurements into our understanding of the broader and multi-scale martian natural systems and processes. These advancements make addressing key science questions with novel mission concepts feasible, promising results that would significantly advance our understanding of extraterrestrial surface-atmosphere interactions. This summary follows from a community-generated white paper for the ongoing Planetary Science/Astrobiology Decadal Survey, small spacecraft concept development at JPL, and numerous JPL and community discussions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication2022 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2022
PublisherIEEE Computer Society
ISBN (Electronic)9781665437608
StatePublished - 2022
Event2022 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2022 - Big Sky, United States
Duration: Mar 5 2022Mar 12 2022

Publication series

NameIEEE Aerospace Conference Proceedings
ISSN (Print)1095-323X


Conference2022 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2022
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityBig Sky

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science


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