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Miking Up Mars: NASA Ready to Record Red Planet

By Clive Young. NASA’s Mars 2020 Rover will capture audio on Mars properly for the first time.

Pasadena, CA (December 20, 2018)—NASA has been sending space exploration landers to Mars since the mid-1970s, but surprisingly has never properly recorded sound from the Red Planet. That will change when the space agency launches its Mars 2020 Rover, scheduled to land in February, 2021.

It’s not to say that NASA hasn’t tried to capture the sounds of Mars before. The original Viking landers recorded some wind noise via seismometers, but the results weren’t within audible frequencies and were additionally hampered by the low sampling rates of the era’s technology.

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Microphones were on-board when NASA sent the Mars Polar Lander in 1999 and the Phoenix Mars lander in 2008, but the former crash-landed on the surface, and the latter’s mic was never turned on due to concerns it would cause problems during the landing process.

Earlier this month, the new InSight lander finally recorded wind on Mars, but the new spacecraft, too, does not have a microphone. Rather, on-board seismometers captured vibrations caused by 15 MPH winds shaking the lander and this was approximated into audio.

When the Mars 2020 Rover heads to the Red Planet, it will be ready to not only record sound on the surface of Mars for the first time, but also audio of the spacecraft’s descent through the Martian atmosphere.

Currently, the Mars 2020 spacecraft being assembled at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA will soon sport a pair of DPA Microphones d:dicate 4006 omnidirectional mics, to be used in tandem with a MMA-A digital audio interface to record sound. Both mics will sport MMP-G Modular Active Cables, acting as preamplifiers.

Key considerations for NASA in terms of choosing microphones for the project included sound quality; footprint, due to the limited space and weight available; capability of connecting to an onboard computer via USB; and the anticipated ability to survive the journey. During the seven-month trip to Mars, the spacecraft will get as cold as -148° Fahrenheit and face pressure both in and outside of the Martian atmosphere.

To protect the audio equipment, NASA designers have created a custom enclosure to mount the interface inside the rover, and in turn, DPA worked with the design team to build a MMP-G amplifier housing for the Rover’s exterior—which will in turn allow scientists to record sounds as the Rover descends to the surface of Mars.

René Mørch, product manager at DPA Microphones, noted in a statement, “We are honored to be a part of this mission.”

MARS 2020 Rover •

DPA Microphones •