One of the red-hot questions of present days – Life exists on Mars or not? Whether life ever existed on Mars? To address this important question, European Space Agency (ESA) plans to launch the ExoMars mission in search of life on Mars.
The ExoMars spacecraft is almost complete. A joint mission between ESA and Roscosmos, it begins with the launch of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter in 2016, once the ExoMars orbiter will reach in Mars orbit it will release an aerodynamically designed capsule containing a Mars Rover.
The 2018 mission of the ExoMars programme will deliver a European rover and a Russian surface platform to the surface of Mars. A Proton rocket will be used to launch the mission, which will arrive to Mars after a nine-month journey. The ExoMars rover will travel across the Martian surface to search for signs of life. It will collect samples with a drill and analyse them with next-generation instruments. ExoMars will be the first mission to combine the capability to move across the surface and to study Mars at depth.
“The ExoMars 2018 is opening a new chapter in Mars exploration. First time we will address third dimension which is depth. All mission upto now dug only top 5 cm of the surface but ExoMars rover can dig upto 2 meters. ”Jorge Vago, ExoMars Project Scientist, ESA explained. The addition of third dimension, depth gives better change to explore the past presence of life on Mars.
During launch and cruise phase, a carrier module (provided by ESA with some contributions from Roscosmos) will transport the surface platform and the rover within a single aeroshell. A descent module (provided by Roscosmos with some contributions by ESA) will separate from the carrier shortly before reaching the Martian atmosphere. During the descent phase, a heat shield will protect the payload from the severe heat flux. Parachutes, thrusters, and damping systems will reduce the speed, allowing a controlled landing on the surface of Mars.
After landing, the rover will egress from the platform to start its science mission. The primary objective is to land the rover at a site with high potential for finding well-preserved organic material, particularly from the very early history of the planet. The rover will establish the physical and chemical properties of Martian samples, mainly from the subsurface. Underground samples are more likely to include biomarkers, since the tenuous Martian atmosphere offers little protection from radiation and photochemistry at the surface.
The ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, part of the 2016 ExoMars mission, will support communications. The Rover Operations Control Centre (ROCC) will be located in Turin, Italy. The ROCC will monitor and control the ExoMars rover operations. Commands to the Rover will be transmitted through the Orbiter and the ESA space communications network operated at ESA’s European Space Operations Centre (ESOC).
NASA’s Curiosity vs ESA’s ExoMars:
NASA’s highly successful 2004 rovers were conceived as robotic geologists. They have demonstrated the past existence of long-lasting, wet environments on Mars. Their results have persuaded the scientific community that mobility is a must-have requirement for all future surface missions. Recent results from Mars Express have revealed multiple, ancient deposits containing clay minerals that form only in the presence of liquid water. This reinforces the hypothesis that ancient Mars may have been wetter, and possibly warmer, than it is today. NASA’s 2009 Mars Science Laboratory will study surface geology and organics, with the goal of identifying habitable environments.
ExoMars is the next logical step. It will have instruments to investigate whether life ever arose on the Red Planet. It will also be the first mission with the mobility to access locations where organic molecules may be well-preserved, thus allowing, for the first time, investigation of Mars’ third dimension: depth. This alone is a guarantee that the mission will break new scientific ground. Finally, the many technologies developed for this project will allow ESA to prepare for international collaboration on future missions, such as Mars Sample Return.
Explore Further: Space Rover
Image: ESA Source: ESA