Awards & Nominations

N.I.R.M.A. has received the following awards and nominations. Way to go!

Global Nominee

The Challenge | Make Sense Out of Mars

Develop a sensor to be used by humans on Mars.

N.I.R.M.A. (Near InfraRed Moisture Analyzer)

NIRMA is a short-distance contactless high resolution water detection and contamination-free soil sampling instrument that answers planetary protection concerns when exploring areas with probable water existence on the surface of Mars.


Our team’s objective was to design a system that enables Mars surface exploration by taking into consideration The United Nations’ Outer Space Treaty and specifically the Planetary Protection Guidelines[1].

The recent discovery of liquid water on the surface of Mars in conjunction with the prohibition of the NASA’s Curiosity rover to visit such sites due to sample contamination risk hazards made us realise the need for an innovative solution for short-distance contactless high resolution water detection and contamination-free soil sampling.

Our instrument’s primary feature is moisture detection in the Martian soil implemented by an Optical Infrared Sensor (IR band) while the second is non-contaminated soil sampling using a sterile expandable sampling mechanism. The instrument must be suspended above the area of interest using a crane extended from a rover or it can be mounted on flying vehicle of some kind (e.x. NASA’s Mars helicopter concept).

For the purpose of constructing a prototype we modified a usb web camera by removing its IR filter lens so that in conditions of absence of visible light wavelengths we could capture near infrared images. Water in liquid form absorbs infrared light (3000 - 4000 cm-1), so these images can be analyzed in the in the IR spectrum to identify moisture content in the soil. Using these readings astronauts or automated robots can inspect areas ahead of them either to avoid contact and contamination or study them.

If the mission objective is to study the area of interest in which the instrument already identified high moisture content, we designed a mechanism that deploys a sterile container that is designed to sample the soil, just like a cheese tester tool. It is of high importance that the container is sterile so the system uses a protective sleeve that rips while the mechanism extends. After deployment the tool must be lowered into the soil in order to sample it.

After the extraction of the sample it is retrieved and brought back to the base so that it can be analysed on Mars. Future applications of the same platform include mineral identification and possible hydrothermal alteration in the absorption range of 500 - 1500cm-1 in the IR spectrum.



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