Mars in the spotlight at a meeting between CNES, JPL and Caltech

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Wednesday 8 March, CNES President Jean-Yves Le Gall visited NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the invitation of its Director Michael Watkins and Deputy Director Larry James. He also visited Caltech, where he gave a talk. These meetings served to review current and future projects and to reaffirm the close ties that France and the United States have forged working together on oceanography missions and Mars exploration.

Reflecting the close partnership ties between France and the United States, CNES and JPL have cultivated a unique relationship over the past decades working together on oceanography missions and Mars exploration. This latest meeting between the heads of CNES and JPL provided the opportunity to review projects currently underway, among them the Curiosity rover scouting the surface of Mars for nearly five years now and Maven, which has been studying the red planet’s upper atmosphere for nearly two years. But discussions focused especially on future missions, with InSight to be launched in May 2018 carrying a French instrument to listen to the planet’s ‘heartbeat’, Mars 2020, which will be embarking the French SuperCam experiment, and NeMO (Next Mars Orbiter), for which a French contribution is under study. CNES also gave a progress report on the ExoMars European mission for which French research laboratories are developing numerous instruments. The outcome of the meeting was thus to reaffirm the rich variety and quality of joint exploration projects being pursued by France and the United States, as evidenced by the agreement signed recently by CNES and NASA concerning preliminary studies to advance the U.S. agency’s Journey to Mars, the next frontier for human space exploration.

A status report was also given on space oceanography. After the successful Jason missions that have revealed a rise in sea level of 3.2 mm a year, CNES and JPL are now actively preparing the SWOT (Surface Water and Ocean Topography) mission that will use innovative radar interferometry technology to measure the level of oceans and land surface waters, a project vital to keep track of the effects of climate change.

Lastly, Jean-Yves Le Gall gave a talk to Caltech students and research scientists setting out the dynamic innovation policy that CNES is implementing in its five domains of activity—Ariane, Sciences, Earth observation, Telecommunications and Defense—to invent the future of space.

After these meetings, Jean-Yves Le Gall commented: “Since I started coming here in the early
1980s, JPL and Caltech have always been a source of inspiration for me, as that is where most of the exploration missions everybody dreams about conceived and developed. I am especially proud to note that French excellence in science and technology is well renowned here, enabling us to work together on such exceptional projects and in particular on the exploration of Mars, which is capturing people’s imagination all over the world. Mars really is a superstar!”