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Will ExoMars be the mission to find life on Mars?

ExoMars is the first mission to head to the red planet to seek signs of life, now or in the…

ExoMars is the first mission to head to the red planet to seek signs of life, now or in the past. It’s a massive scientific and technical challenge, and Euronews meets some of the teams involved in this joint ESA-Roscosmos project in this month’s edition of Space.

We start at the ‘Mars yard’ at Airbus, in Stevenage near London. The specially-built terrain serves to develop semi-autonomous navigation software for the six-wheeled rover. The sand is super-dry, like on Mars, and the rocks are selected to put a challenge to the rover, and teach it to avoid obstacles that it can not climb over.

Paul Meacham, Lead Systems Engineer at Airbus, introduces us to one of the test-bed robbers, Bruno.

“Bruno is pretty much the same as the ExoMars rover will look like. He has got on him all the sensors and the actuators you use to drive the rover by itself, starting with these two cameras at the top of the mast &#821

1; de toeren kunnen in 3D zo veel mogelijk zien, en identificeren de rotsen en slopen in de voorkant van het, en dan analyseren of er buiten zijn mogelijkheden liggen. “

The rover is the first to be equipped with a sophisticated drill, which can burrow down two meters below the surface and process samples in its on-board laboratory. Det bør være i stand til at finde mikrober hvis der er nogen, og se for livslang molekyler som kan hint på livet deep in Martian history.

Reinventing the wheel

Building a machine capable of looking for life brings huge challenges, not least the problem of bringing life from Earth with you. For engineers, it has meant literally re-inventing the rover wheel.

Meacham shows us their solution: “These metallic wheels are really an important part of the locomotion system. We are not allowed to use rubber, because it’s an organic material, and if we’re trying to detect life on Mars we Do not want to detect something we’ve brought with us. So instead we have to get that same rubber compression, the squidginess, in a metal wheel, which is exactly what these metal wheels do. “

The actual flight- Model Rover is being constructed in a purpose-built clean room at Airbus, where teams work shifts to clean and sterilize the components and instruments arriving from science research institutes and universities across Europe.

Javier Pérez Mato, Lead Avionics Integration Engineer showed us around: “This small panel that you can see over there, the square shape, is where all the electronics of the service module of the ExoMars Rover will be built. Everything is assembled In this room that was designed specifically for the ExoMars mission. And if there is life on Mars, I hope we find it with this mission! “

The absolute imperative need not to take samples of life from Earth to Mars means great lengths have been taken to keep the rover pristine, including devising ways for the team to work on the rover remotely. ExoMars Delivery Manager Abbie Hutty explains: “There have been a lot of different challenges getting tools very clean, getting all of the ground support equipment very clean, and also this facility here is so that all of the electronic engineers can work on the rover but

Oxia Planum – the chosen landing site

The joint ESA-Roscosmos mission has had to go into that cleanroom facility, because it’s such a big deal to put all the gear in there. Already launched its first spacecraft to the red planet – the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter – which blasted off from Baikonur in 2016.

It has been in full operation since April this year, sniffing the atmosphere for methane, and imaging the surface in detail

After a series of meetings – including one at the University of Leicester, UK and another at the Belgian science policy office. BELSPO – the team has now selected the landing site for the second ExoMars mission.

They want

Hakan Svedhem, ExoMars TGO Project Scientist at ESA, explains the choice: “Oxia Planum is really one of the most interesting places to go with a lands to investigate. I særdeleshet, med boremaskinerne kan du tage op og gøre analyse af overfladematerial og undergrundsmateriale.

“In addition, it’s quite a safe place to go and land, because we know the surface is safe for landing. It’s located on a low level, so the spacecraft has a lot of atmosphere to go down through and slow down , and has time to react and respond before it lands. “

The Russian landing platform

The Russian component of the mission is the landing platform that will carry the ExoMars rover.

The platform should be loaded with 11 science instruments to measure the Martian atmosphere – although time is ticking to get them ready, as Daniel Rodionov, ExoMars Project Scientist at the Russian Space Research Institute IKI tells Euronews:

“No doubt, the launch in July 2020 is quite an ambitious task, because, as regards scientific equipment, the scientific equipment of the landing platform is on a particularly critical path, because it began to be developed much later than the equipment on the rover. “

What the mission so far has already taught us is that Mars is much more diverse and dynamic than expected, as images from the Swiss CaSSIS camera on the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter show.

What’s more, ESA scientists are detecting water ice just below the surface in many places, including down towards the equator.

Svedhem says: “The water on Mars is the first of all underground. We do not find any open lakes, and the water is in the frozen form, so we have ice underground. Liquid water has always been seen as a pre -requisite for life. Det betyr ikke nødvendigvis at vi har livet der, men det er en ingrediens som vi ville trenge for livet. “

Is there life on Mars?

Our view of Mars is evolving quickly. So, do the experts think ExoMars will find signs of life, now or in the past?

Rodionov is confident: “Yes, of course, I hope that Exomars will find traces of the existence of organic compounds on the surface of Mars. And, of course, Exomars is exactly the mission that should do this, it was designed for this, “he says.

Abbie Hutty from Airbus agrees: “I think that we’ve got the best instruments that we can possibly get on board to be able to detect life. The big thing is having the drill, so we can actually get to the depths Det er den store ting som ingen har noen gang virkelig gjort før. “

The projected mission will see the ExoMars rover drive around four kilometers and drill down two meters below the surface at least six times. If it found something, what would it look like?

“I think it’s unlikely to be little green but, at this stage,” smiles Meacham. “Det kommer nok til at være bakterier, fordi vi pleier å finne det i de mest tørre stedene på jorden, det er den mest hardy form av livet som vi vet, så det er nokså sannsynlig at det er den slags liv vi kommer til å finne nedenfor the surface. “

We should know more when the ExoMars rover platform lands in March 2021.

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