ExoMars Mission On Track
June 17, 2013

ESA’s ExoMars On Track For 2016 Mission To The Red Planet

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced that its mission to Mars in 2016 has entered the final stages of construction. ExoMars received the signature of a contract Monday with Thales Alenia Space at the Paris Air & Space Show. ESA said this agreement marks a major milestone for the mission and for the private aerospace company.

“The award of this contract provides continuity to the work of the industrial team members of Thales Alenia Space on this complex mission, and will ensure that it remains on track for launch in January 2016,” noted Alvaro Giménez Cañete, ESA´s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration.

Thales Alenia is building the Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM) for the 2016 mission. ExoMars will fly two missions, in 2016 and 2018, with the main goal to determine whether life ever existed on Mars. The first mission will be arriving at Mars in October 2016, while the second is scheduled to arrive at the planet in early 2019.

The first mission will include the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which will search for evidence of methane and other atmospheric gases that could provide signs of active biological or geological processes. It will also be delivering the EDM to the surface of Mars in order to demonstrate key technologies needed for the 2018 mission and future landing missions.

During the 2018 mission, an ESA rover will be landing on Mars with the capability of drilling down over six feet to collect samples that have been shielded from the harsh conditions on the surface. This mission will carry a Surface Platform with scientific instruments to investigate the Martian environment.

ESA said its ExoMars missions will help develop new European technical capabilities in landing, roving, drilling and preparing samples to pave the way for a future Mars sample-return mission in the 2020s. The 2018 Rover will include a wide-angle and high-resolution camera system, a ground-penetrating radar, an infrared imaging spectrometer and an organic module detector.

NASA's Mars Curiosity mission is currently on the Red Planet looking to see whether Mars ever had conditions suitable for life. The space agency was able to confirm this key question for the mission after its prized-rover dished out the first drilling analysis. The Curiosity team said a rock drilling sample on Mars yielded findings that showed the presence of sulfur, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous and carbon — all of which are key chemical ingredients for life.

“A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment,” said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA´s Mars Exploration Program at the agency´s headquarters in Washington. “From what we know now, the answer is yes.”

ExoMars hopes to go a step further by drilling deeper and possibly uncovering evidence for ancient life, not just the ingredients to host life.