surface of mars

Interstellar sound: How DPA captured audio from the surface of Mars for the first time

Last month’s historic NASA Mars exploration programme saw the Mars Perseverance Rover touch down on the red planet and capture sound from its surface for the very first time via a comprehensive recording kit from DPA Microphones. Audio Media International speaks exclusively to DPA product manager René Mørch about a field recording project like no other…

How did DPA get involved in the project?
DPA Microphones won the contract from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California based on the products’ ability to perform under demanding conditions. The 4006 microphone withstood the extreme conditions associated with space travel like severe temperature changes and massive vibrations – all within a compact footprint – aboard the Perseverance Rover.

As our solutions can connect to a computer with a USB interface, the organisation also took into consideration DPA’s ability to deliver industry standard communication interfaces. Additionally, all DPA gear aboard the rover included off-the-shelf components, which made the vetting process much quicker and easier for the space programme.

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 How did you set about specifying the right kit for such a project?
JPL already had a good understanding of its needs – a microphone that could withstand the rigours of space travel and a simple way to record from it. Ultimately, our specifications on the project primarily involved making very small modifications to the mechanical design, so that the items could be bolted directly to the chassis of the rover.

When did planning work for the project begin?
We were first approached by JPL for this project back in 2017. Assembly of the rover then began in 2018, with the DPA components being added in early 2019.

How do you prepare for a project like this?
The entire construction of the equipment was tested rigorously during the rover assembly process. It was during this time that the DPA solution proved its effectiveness to the mission, earning it a coveted spot on the historic rover. To me, the fact that these are factory standard components is a clear testament to the quality and durability of the equipment we manufacture.

After being put through vigorous testing by NASA scientists, the DPA equipment, affixed to the Mars Perseverance Rover, officially launched into space aboard the Atlas V-541 rocket in July 2020, ultimately landing on the Red Planet on February 18, 2021. 

What were the biggest challenges you faced during the project?
The waiting time! We knew that all the tests had been made successfully on Earth and had a good understanding that it would also survive the travel to Mars, but the last stage from the atmosphere of Mars to the safe landing on ground is really a tough ride, which can be seen on the amazing video material (see below) capturing this final stage.

Back in October 2020, while the rocket was still in-flight, we received audio from outer space. Though sound can’t travel in vacuum in space, you can still pick up structural born noise, which allowed us to hear that the system was still working well. So, we had high expectations for the system to continue working after landing on Mars and were very happy to be able to hear those first samples of audio from the Red Planet. We processed the data for JPL/NASA right before the press conference on February 22, 2021. 

Was this the first time sound has been recorded from the surface of Mars? Has any such kit been sent there in previous expeditions?
Though other missions to Mars have provided seismic soundwaves from the planet, this expedition marks the first time the world has experienced a true audio capture of its surface. Previous missions have also had microphones on-board, but these didn’t catch any audio, whereas the DPA solution has provided the first true acoustic pickup from the surface of Mars.

With heavy winds, thin air pressure and extremely low temperatures of the highest concerns, the ruggedness and durability of the DPA equipment has once again proven its worth on this mission.

DPA Microphones

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