The Geology of Mars from Orbital and Rover Data: Preparation for the ExoMars 2020 Mission


This PhD project will help different ExoMars instruments prepare for their surface mission.

This project is funded for three and a half years as an STFC studentship.

Apply for this project

Read the eligibility criteria and application guidance below, then send your application to

Application deadline: Wednesday 28 February 2018.


The ExoMars rover will launch in 2020, with the aim of looking for evidence of extinct life on Mars. This project will combine laboratory, remote sensing and field studies to help different ExoMars instruments prepare for the surface mission. The overall goal is to determine the geology of Mars from both orbital and rover data, with particular emphasis on developing techniques that will maximise the rover science return.


The key science objectives of the ExoMars rover, that will launch in 2020, are to:
(1) search for signs of past and present life on Mars;
(2) investigate the water/geochemical environment as a function of depth in the shallow subsurface (Vago et al., 2017).

On board the rover is a suite of instruments that will be used to first identify suitable geological targets for in situ investigation. A deep drill core will then be obtained and returned to the rover analytical laboratory, to look for indicators of past life using complementary techniques including assessment of morphology (potential fossil organisms), mineralogy (past environments and water-rock reaction) and organic molecules and other biomarkers.

An important part of preparing for the ExoMars mission is to understand the data that will be returned, not only in terms of improving processing techniques and maximising the science return, but also in determining the possible limitations of different approaches. Fundamental to this task is being able to relate the vast quantities of orbital data with any rover data from the surface, in addition to exploring the type of data that will be returned.


Left: PanCam Wide Angle Camera (WAC – foreground) with filter wheel installed, outside the optical bench (background). Credit: M. de la Nougerede, UCL/MSSL 2018. Right: PanCam emulator RGB colour data from field trials in Utah, USA. Credit: MURFI 2016.

As part of the preparation for the ExoMars 2020 mission, this project will use a range of different techniques and approaches to
(1) help validate interpretations and hypotheses made from orbital data, previous surface rover missions and fieldwork, and
(2) use ExoMars instrument emulators to test the capability of different observation techniques.

The results will be important for landing site interpretation and mission planning when on the surface, but also of particular relevance to the ExoMars PanCam (Coates et al., 2017), ISEM (Korablev et al., 2017), CLUPI (Josset et al., 2017), and MicrOmega (Bibring et al., 2017) instruments. Therefore, the objectives of this project are to help determine the geology of Mars with orbital and rover data, specifically:

(1) Conduct visible and near-infrared analyses of martian meteorites to determine the spectral response of different instruments.
(2) Compare and contrast geological interpretations of the martian surface from orbital and rover data.
(3) Determine the difference between field-based observations and interpretations from a human with that expected with ExoMars.

This project will use techniques from different disciplines, providing the student with training in the use of GIS software (e.g. ArcGIS, ENVI, SocetSet), analytical facilities (e.g. near-infrared spectrometers, CT scanners), with the potential for geological fieldwork in the UK and overseas.

The project will use the world-class meteorite collection at the Natural History Museum, London, and would suit an enthusiastic individual with a background in geosciences in general, and geology and/or planetary science in particular.


Bibring, J.-P., V. Hamm, C. Pilorget, J. L. Vago, and T. the MicrOmega (2017), The MicrOmega Investigation Onboard ExoMars, Astrobiology, 17(6-7), 621-626, doi:10.1089/ast.2016.1642.

Coates, A. J., et al. (2017), The PanCam Instrument for the ExoMars Rover, Astrobiology, 17(6-7), 511-541, doi:10.1089/ast.2016.1548.

Josset, J.-L., et al. (2017), The Close-Up Imager Onboard the ESA ExoMars Rover: Objectives, Description, Operations, and Science Validation Activities, Astrobiology, 17(6-7), 595-611, doi:10.1089/ast.2016.1546.

Korablev, O. I., et al. (2017), Infrared Spectrometer for ExoMars: A Mast-Mounted Instrument for the Rover, Astrobiology, 17(6-7), 542-564, doi:10.1089/ast.2016.1543.

Vago, J. L., et al. (2017), Habitability on Early Mars and the Search for Biosignatures with the ExoMars Rover, Astrobiology, 17(6-7), 471-510, doi:10.1089/ast.2016.1533.


This project is funded for three and a half years as an STFC studentship, which will cover all fees and a student stipend if you are from the UK, or from the EU and meet residency requirements (settled status, or 3 years full-time residency in the UK). For full details on what is covered by the studentship please see the STFC guidance.

For informal enquiries or further information, please contact Dr Peter Grindrod.

How to apply

Deadline: Wednesday 28 February 2018

Please send the following documents to Anna Hutson at the Postgraduate Office

  • Curriculum vitae
  • Covering letter outlining your interest in the PhD project, relevant skills training, experience and qualifications, and a statement of how this PhD project fits your career development plans.
  • Transcripts of undergraduate and master's degree results.
  • Two academic references including (if applicable) master's project supervisor.

Interview date: March 2018

Start date: October 2018

Further Information

For informal enquiries or further information, please contact Dr Peter Grindrod.


The Natural History Museum

Dr Peter Grindrod

University of St Andrews

Claire Cousins

Open University

Matt Balme

Imperial College London

Steve Banham

Funded by 

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