Austrian Space Forum

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Analog astronauts during Mars mission simulation AMADEE-20 in Israel, 2020 (c) Florian Voggender/OeWF

The Austrian Space Forum (OeWF) is one of the leading institutions conducting high fidelity Mars analog missions, thus paving the way for the future human exploration of the Red Planet. Experts from a broad variety of disciplines as well as the spaceflight sector constitute the core of the OeWF’s continued endeavor.

At the core of the OeWF's Mars analog missions are its standing corps of highly trained analog astronauts, its spacesuit prototypes Aouda.X and Aouda.S, the implementation of an exploration cascade in its Mars simulations and the operation of a mission support center during simulations.

The Austrian Space Forum has been conducting Mars analog missions since 2006. By introducing its AMADEE-program in 2018 the OeWF has significantly increased the fidelity of its simulations.

During OeWF Mars analog missions an average of 200 scientists from up to 20 countries are involved, who develop experiments and equipment to be tested during analog missions.

AMADEE Research Program

AMADEE is the flagship research program of the Austrian Space Forum, scheduled between 2018-2028. It is a framework for the development of hardware, workflows and the science behind future human-robotic planetary surface missions. Implementing the Vienna Statement for Planetary Analog Research (VSAPR) it is a catalyst and proving ground for the search for life before actual flight missions. AMADEE is mission-driven to allow for a heuristic approach integrating engineering innovations, scientific progress and operational experience: Every 2-3 years, a new field mission will build upon its predeccessors.

With strategic partnerships, cutting-edge science & engineering as well as a strong outreach & education component, AMADEE is open to international cooperation and cutting edge research. AMADEE is based upon a significant body of knowledge and operational expertise gained during the PolAres predecessor program which included 11 major international Mars analog field campaigns, the development of spacesuit prototypes, 10 flights of stratospheric balloons and a rover program. In addition, the teams developed the infrastructure and training & certification regimes for a dedicated Mission Support Center and a standing corps of analog astronauts as well as a multi-mission science data archive.

The OeWF's Mars analog missions aim to:

  • study equipment behavior involving the simultaneous usage of instruments with the option of a human-in-the-loop (via the Aouda.X/.S spacesuit),
  • provide a platform for testing life-detection or geophysical techniques, performing terrain tests for rovers and test concepts for high situational awareness of remote support teams
  • serve as an outreach platform to enhance the visibility of planetary sciences and human spaceflight.

OeWF Mission Architecture

OeWF Mars analog missions are comprised of a flight crew of analog astronauts simulating the crew of Mars-astronauts and a Mission Support Center MSC in Austria. While the analog astronauts live and work in isolation at the test site, they are supported in situ by the GOST team and by a number of teams at the MSC off site, who provide medical oversight, flightplanning as well as scientific support regarding experiments and equipment. Communication between the flight crew and the MSC is delayed by 10 minutes to account for signal transit time between Earth and Mars that can in fact vary from 3 to 22 minutes.

Analog Astronauts

Analog astronauts are specifically trained spacesuit testers. After an extensive selection process they run through a several month long basic training. Analog astronauts are used for technical tests and Mars simulations. OeWF analog astronauts are specifically trained for the OeWF Mars spacesuit simulator “Aouda” and are assigned “in analogy to” future human (Mars) expeditions for preparatory research and development projects. For its Mars analog missions the OeWF usually chooses six anaolg astronauts from the corps to become the mission's flight crew. They are selected in accordance with the specifics of the upcoming mission and their individual qualifications. The OeWF's analog astronaut corps is currently comprised of two women and eleven men from Austria, Germany, Greece, Italy, Israel, Portugal, Spain, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Spacesuit Prototype "Aouda"

Aouda.X” is the first generation of the advanced spacesuit simulator for future human Mars missions developed by the Austrian Space Forum. This prototype was developed between 2009 and 2018 and emulates the restrictions of an actual planetary surface spacesuit, like weight, resistance or limited sensory input, whilst protecting the analog astronaut from the environment and keeping them alive. An elaborate human-machine interface, including a sensor network and specifically developed software assist the analog astronaut during Mars analog missions. The 45kg heavy prototype has been developed to optimize interactions with other (robotic) components, like a rover, and minimize the risk of human contamination. Currentls two of these spacesuit simulator are in use: Aouda.S and Aouda.X. The Aouda suits are operated by carefully selected and trained analog astronauts of the Austrian Space Forum.

GOST

The Ground Operations Support Team (GOST) is a highly qualified crew who are effectively the ghosts of mars - responsible for the implementation of all field operations that are not “in-sim” while staying unseen within simulation, and perform what future crewed Mars missions will require from preparatory missions, robotics and other means of in-situ support. The team is expeditionary by nature and technological in training and is responsible for the field safety and security of the mission, field transportation and logistics, field communication and IT, on-site coordination of media as well as public, and documentation and protection of mission data (visuals, LL, documents, forms etc.).

Mission Support Center

The Mission Support Center (MSC) is the modern version of mission control we know from the Lunar landings: It serves as a control center, which supports the teams in the field, but also acts as a “Gateway to Mars” for scientists, the media, and the general public. Due to the amount of time it takes for information to travel between Mars and Earth (this can be anywhere from 3 to 22 minutes depending on the specific constellation) a time-lag of 10 minutes has been implemented in communication between MSC and flight crew (on simulated Mars). Thus control in real time is out of the question. The team members in the field must make their decisions autonomously. This has been shown to allow astronauts on long missions to work more effectively. The Forum’s MSC is a unique facility which allows for the testing of various concepts.

The most important part of this facility is the Flight Control Room (FCT) where the Flight Director orchestrates the Flight Control Team. All the essential telemetric data from the test site is collated in the FCT, communicated to the team in the field, and then decisions are made.

The FCT is supported by several “Back Rooms”: these are staffed with teams who work for the FCT, prepare decisions, or analyse data in (near) real time: Flight-planning is responsible for creating a schedule of field activities, wherein safety aspects, route planning, weather forecasts, or individual needs of the scientists must be considered as well as any used goods, human factors, or the needs of the crew. The team from Remote Science Support (RSS) analyzes the data the field crew records and collects. This enables RSS to provide suggestions for flight planning, professional discussions, detailed study of data, and also the consultation with external experts. The team in the field can concentrate on survival, hardware maintenance, and the execution of activities planned for them on Earth.

The third group is the “earthbound” component of the MSC: it covers public relations, ground support and IT.

Exploration Cascade

Building upon the PolAres infrastructure to field test workflows for the search for extra-terrestrial life, a comprehensive biosignature detection workflow has been established. That workflow leads to an “exploration cascade”, which provides the scientific framework for the mission's experiments. It further dictates the sequence of the experiments and the output needed for the search for life at a test site, which is the primary objective of the AMADEE program. Thus contributing to the preparation of future missions to the Red Planet. Consequently, the main focus lies on Astrobiology. Secondary objectives are operational knowledge and mission architecture.

Missions

Caption text
Mission Test Site Start date Duration (days)
PolAres Rio Tinto, Spain Mission Summary 17 Apr 2011 6
PolAres Dachstein Ice Caves, Austria 27 Apr 2012 5
Mars2013 Morocco Mission Report 01 Feb 2013 28
AMADEE-15 Kaunertal Glacier, Austria Mission Report 03 Aug 2015 14
AMADEE-18 Oman Mission Report 01 Feb 2018 28
AMADEE-20 Israel Mission Report 04 Oct 2021 28
AMADEE-24 Armenia 15 March 2024 28

Publications

Link to peer-reviewed publications based on OeWF Mars Analog Missions