Phoenix Mission Accomplished With ANSYS Aboard

Released : 12 Jan 2010

Engineering Simulation Software from ANSYS Used to Help Calibrate Meteorological Instruments on Phoenix Mars Lander

SOUTHPOINTE, Pa.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- ANSYS, Inc. (NASDAQ: ANSS), a global innovator of simulation software and technologies designed to optimize product development processes, today announced that the University of Alberta used software from ANSYS to aid in interpreting weather data received from the Phoenix Mars lander. In creating a virtual environment of the planet's unique atmospheric conditions, scientists discovered that heat and radiation from the lander itself could affect daily readings, such as atmospheric pressure, wind velocity and temperature. ANSYS(R) software helped scientists interpret the data transmitted from the Phoenix to Earth -- with rapid turnaround while the mission was in progress -- to identify the effects of the lander itself.

The Phoenix spacecraft landed on Mars in May 2008 and, for the next five months, fed back a steady stream of data to Earth. Well before the launch, a team of Canadian scientists at the University of Alberta helped in the development of the lander's meteorological station (MET). MET was designed to collect measurements that would complement other data critical to the mission. Design and calibration experiments were difficult and expensive to perform, so the university turned to virtual testing with fluid dynamics software from ANSYS. While exploring the anticipated Martian environment, scientists discovered that, under certain wind conditions, heat emitted from the lander could cause a temperature sensor to show higher-than-atmospheric values. "With space missions, there is only one shot at getting it right. Any minor flaw could result in the instantaneous loss of years of preparation and hundreds of millions of dollars," said Carlos Lange, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Alberta. "Using simulation software from ANSYS, we learned that the internal heat generation and emission of radiation from the lander's surface could increase temperature measurements. Similarly, obstacles upstream from velocity and pressure sensors could alter readings of wind magnitude and/or direction." Therefore, Lange and his colleagues calibrated the instruments through a large parametric study. After the lander touched down on Mars, the university team used the results of such simulations to evaluate the raw mission data and find instances when these wind directions occurred. This process was key to preventing misinterpretation of the data by the Phoenix scientific team.

Simulation turnaround time was a concern to the team as well. During the mission, limited time and power resources were allocated daily to the operation of specific instruments. "To make decisions about the prioritization of data collection, strategic planners sometimes required input based on the results of the simulations. So we needed to quickly simulate new cases," Lange said. This short time-response requirement was met by employing the high-performance computing capabilities of ANSYS software, running the simulations in parallel on a cluster to achieve, at times, super-linear speedup (speedup greater than an amount proportional to the number of processors used). The efficiency of high-performance computing capabilities and multi-core hardware together enabled new simulations to be completed within the timeframe required for decision making. The overall success of the University of Alberta's work has allowed for additional simulations to be performed to aid in the explanation of certain phenomena found in the raw data.

"Software from ANSYS is used every day to design better products on Earth. And now, it's helping to interpret data from Mars!" said Josh Fredberg, vice president, marketing, ANSYS, Inc. "Because of the depth of our product offering, its breadth across a wide range of disciplines, and the ability to tackle large problems quickly, the application of ANSYS software is virtually unlimited. Organizations are finding new, innovative ways of using engineering simulation to create products faster, to understand the world around us and to learn more about the universe."

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About the University of Alberta

The University of Alberta is one of Canada's most dynamic post-secondary institutions, recognized for the breadth of its undergraduate and graduate programs. Ranked among the top 100 public research-intensive universities in the world, it is one of Canada's top universities, with a reputation for excellence, particularly in the health sciences, computing science, engineering, and the physical and environmental sciences. It recently brought together experts from all these fields under the interdisciplinary Institute for Space Science, Exploration and Technology (ISSET). The University of Alberta's vision since its inception more than 100 years ago has been to be one of the world's great universities for the public good. Annual funding for research programs has more than tripled in the past decade. For the Phoenix project, the institution received funding received from the Canadian Space Agency. For more information, visit and

About ANSYS, Inc.

ANSYS, Inc., founded in 1970, develops and globally markets engineering simulation software and technologies widely used by engineers, designers, researchers and students across a broad spectrum of industries and academia. The Company focuses on the development of open and flexible solutions that enable users to analyze designs directly on the desktop, providing a common platform for fast, efficient and cost-conscious product development, from design concept to final-stage testing and validation. The Company and its global network of channel partners provide sales, support and training for customers. Headquartered in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., with more than 60 strategic sales locations throughout the world, ANSYS, Inc. and its subsidiaries employ over 1,600 people and distribute ANSYS products through a network of channel partners in over 40 countries. Visit for more information.

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Source: ANSYS, Inc.

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