ExoMars will comprise of a trace gas orbiter (TGO), two entry, descent and landing demonstrator modules (EDM) and a rover. These mission elements are planned to be sent to Mars in two launches atop a four-stage ‘Proton’ rocket launcher.
The first launch will carry the TGO and the first EDM from the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch site in January 2016, to identify exploration targets for the rover. The EDM will be released onto Mars in October 2016. The rover and the second EDM will be launched in May 2018 to explore the targets identified by the first EDM.
The project was initially undertaken jointly by Nasa and the ESA. Nasa, however, withdrew from the project in February 2012 due to budgetary constraints. ESA went ahead with the project in collaboration with a new partner, Roscosmos, in March 2012. Roscosmos confirmed its decision to provide two heavy-lift Proton rockets for supporting the project. It is expected to sign a formal contract with ESA in November 2012.
Key elements of the Mars exploration project to study the Red Planet
The TGO will land the EDM on a predefined area on the surface of Mars for identifying the existence of methane and other atmospheric gases using onboard sensors.
The EDM will collect data related to Martian weather conditions and transmit the same to the ground station, through the TGO. ESA will use this data to choose a suitable technology and the exact location for landing the rover on Mars.
Rover will be landed on Mars by the second EDM, with the help of a parachute. Upon completion of the rover’s landing, the orbiter will be used as a telecommunication relay spacecraft for future missions until 2022.
The rover will collect soil samples by drilling the surface of Mars to a depth of two metres using a robotic driller. Collected samples will be crushed into powder at the in-built crushing station and transferred to the onboard analytical laboratory for modern scientific analysis.
Capabilities of the ExoMars rover vehicle and construction timeline
ExoMars rover is designed for a lifespan of six years. It will weigh approximately 220kg at launch. It can survive in the cold Martian nights with the aid of batteries and heater units. It will be equipped with two gallium arsenide solar arrays to produce the required electricity to charge its batteries.
The preliminary design review of the rover is expected to be completed in January 2014. The critical design review is planned for January 2016. The final acceptance and qualification reviews are scheduled in October 2017.
Origins of Exobiology on Mars and ESA Aurora Programme details
Development of the ExoMars rover was approved by the Space Minister of Europe in December 2005. Rover is being developed under the Aurora Programme launched by the ESA as a flagship mission.
MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) and EADS Astrium were awarded a €1m ($1.3m) contract by the ESA in 2007 to design and manufacture an ExoMars prototype chassis.
Thales Alenia Space (TAS) is responsible for the design and manufacture of the EDM, TGO, analytical laboratory drawer and Pasteur payload instruments. EADS Astrium is involved in the development of the rover itself.
TAS was awarded an extension contract worth €98m ($128m) by the ESA in August 2010.
Technology and equipment on the ExoMars exploratory rover
ExoMars rover will feature six-wheeled locomotion with full 210 of freedom capability to increase surface mobility and enable it to climb slopes with loose soil.
It will be fitted with autonomous navigation stereo cameras and an onboard computer to create 3D digital maps without the intervention of ground controllers in moving the vehicle. It will also have a service module compartment and a Pasteur payload laboratory.
Close-up collision avoidance cameras will be mounted on the vehicle to ensure its safety. The motion control robustness will be improved by inclinometers and gyroscopes.
Other equipment will include an infra-red borehole spectrometer, Mars oxidant and organics detector, Raman spectrometer, shallow ground penetrating radar, gas chromatograph mass spectrometer, Mossbauer spectrometer, visible and infrared microscope, X-ray diffractometer and IR Fourier interferometer.
Ground station of ESA’s and Roscosmos’s scientific study project
ExoMars will be controlled and tracked from a ground station using a Doppler tracking radar data system. The onboard computer will transmit commands to the rover via the TGO.