ESA mission to Mars; ExoMars

ESA has established a two missions space program, ExoMars to address the possibility of extra-terrestrial life by investigating the Martian environment. This program is in coordination with the Russian space agency Roscosmos. The first mission consisting of trace gas orbiter and Schiaparelli (an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module) was launched on 14 March 2016 on a Proton rocket.

The ExoMars rover. Credit: ESA
The ExoMars rover. Credit: ESA

The main objective of this mission is to search for the sign of trace gases, mainly methane and their geological and seasonal distribution in the Martian atmosphere. You might be wondering why the signs of methane are essential; it is because it can signify active or past biological processes on mars as most methane produces as a by-product of microbial metabolism in the decomposition of biomass.

The subsequent mission, includes a European rover and a Russian surface platform, will fly to Mars in 2020. This mission is first of its kind to have the combined capability of moving across the surface and studying mars at depth for two specific types of subsurface life signatures, morphological and chemical. The TGO used in the previous mission will operate as a rover’s data relay satellite.

Since the principal motive for this mission is to land the rover at a site with high potential for finding well-preserved organic material, so ExoMars drill is designed to extract various soil samples at a depth of 2 meters while investigating mineralogy of borehole using an infrared spectrometer. The acquired samples then deliver to the inlet port of the Rover Payload Module for analysis.

Panoramic camera system (PanCam) designed for digital terrain mapping includes two broad-angle cameras for multi-spectral stereoscopic panoramic imaging and a high-resolution camera for high-resolution color imaging. Stained Glass will ensure the prevention of color change from ultraviolet radiation, thus providing exact colorful images of the surface of the red planet.

The main priorities of the Russian surface platform are imaging of landing-site, climate monitoring, and atmospheric investigations. LARA (Lander Radio science experiment) will provide details of the internal structure of Mars such as a change in angular momentum due to mass redistribution like the movement of ice from polar caps to atmosphere and HABIT (Habitability, Brine Irradiation, and Temperature package).

These will examine the exchange of volatile between surface and atmosphere, radiation environment and compare it with investigations made by ExoMars 2016 TGO.On 21 October 2015, the landing site for the 2018 launch was Oxia Planum since launch got delayed by 2020. Mawrth Vallis also selected in addition to the former site as possible locations. The final site will be selected approximately one year before launch.

Note: The Author Pawan Akhani is ahead of the Astrobiology network of Pakistan, Islamabad Chapter. The credit to this write-up goes to team ABNP. https://astronomerswithoutborders.org/my-awb/our-current-affiliates/network.html?id=652


Also Read: https://scientiamag.org/viking-nasas-mars-exploration-program/

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