Scientists, start your engines. The next few weeks will see a flurry of proposals come for the European Space Agency’s first rover mission on the Red Planet in 2018.
The ExoMars mission will see a lander and rover touch Mars, and what’s neat about this particular mission is the rover has a drill on board that can burrow as far down as 6 feet (2 meters) — a first on that planet. This means the mission would be well-suited to look for organic molecules, especially in light of the stunning findings Mars Curiosity scientists recently presented about a possibly life-friendly ancient lake on Mars.
Here, in ESA’s words, are what the site must accomplish:
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- The site must be ancient (older than 3.6 Ga)—from Mars’ early, habitable period: Pre- to late-Noachian (Phyllosian), possibly extending into the Hesperian;
- The site must show abundant morphological and mineralogical evidence for long-duration, or frequently reoccurring, aqueous activity;
- The site must include numerous sedimentary rock outcrops;
- The outcrops must be distributed over the landing ellipse to ensure that the rover can get to some of them (typical rover traverse range is a few km);
- The site must have little dust coverage.
If you’re well-versed in Red Planet geology, we’d love to hear your idea for possible sites. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments. For more information about the mission requirements, you can check out the ESA page, which details what proposals must contain.