NASA makes successful rover missions seem mundane. Spirit and Opportunity were wildly successful, and Curiosity and Perseverance would both be considered successes even if they stopped working today. But complex missions don’t succeed without rigorous testing.
The ESA takes that lesson to heart, and when it comes to their Mars rover, they’ve built a ‘rover playground’ to test it in.
The ExoMars Rover mission is back on track for its mission to Mars, but Russia won’t be a part of it this time. Following Russia’s disastrous invasion of neighbouring Ukraine in February 2022, the ESA suspended the ExoMars program.
Now, the mission is targeted for a 2028 launch to Mars without Russian involvement. In anticipation of that launch date, the ESA is busy testing the Rosalind Franklin rover and its mission-defining drill.
When it arrives on Mars, the ESA’s Rosalind Franklin rover will join a growing fleet of robotic rovers, landers, and orbiters dedicated to searching for life on Mars. As part of the Exomars program, this mission was a collaborative effort between the ESA and the Russian State Space Corporation (Roscosmos). Whereas the ESA would provide the rover, Roscosmos was to provide the launch services and the Kazachok lander that would deliver Rosalind Franklin to the surface.
After many years of development, testing, and some delays, the Rosalind Franklin rover passed its System Qualification and Flight Acceptance Review in March. The Review Board confirmed that the rover was ready to be shipped to the launch site at Baikonur Cosmodrome and would make the launch window opening on September 20th, 2022. Unfortunately, due to the suspension of cooperation with Roscosmos, the ESA’s rover finds itself stranded on Earth for the time being.
The existence of water on Mars is a contentious subject. We know there used to be water on the surface of the planet, though it’s long gone now. We know there’s frozen water underground in the world, and we know there’s water vapour in the air. But life needs liquid water.
Could there be liquid water on Mars?
A new study shows how salty water could emerge from the atmosphere onto Mars’ surface under the right conditions.
In about a year (Sept. 20th, 2022), the Rosalind Franklin rover will depart for Mars. As the latest mission in the ESA’s and Roscosmos’ ExoMars program, Rosalind Franklin will join the small army of orbiters, landers, and rovers that are working to characterize the Martian atmosphere and environment. A key aspect of the rover’s mission will involve drilling into the Martian soil and rock and obtaining samples from deep beneath the surface.
To prepare for drilling operations on Mars, the ESA, Italian space agency (ASI), and their commercial partners have been conducting tests with a replica – aka. the Ground Test Model (GTM). Recently, the test model completed its first round of sample collection, known as the Mars Terrain Simulation (MTS). The rover drilled into hard stone and extracted samples from 1.7 meters (5.5 feet) beneath the surface in a record-breaking feat.
People have been speculating about the possibility of life on Mars for centuries. But it’s only since the 1970s and the Viking 1 and 2missions that we have been able to search for it. After many decades, evidence has mounted that Mars may have once supported life (like the existence of flowing water and organic molecules), but evidence of present-day life has remained elusive.
Unfortunately, according to a recent study by an international team of scientists led by the Spanish Astrobiology Center (CSIC-INTA), it’s possible that the surface of Mars was bathed in acid and alkaline fluids that destroyed all evidence of past life. These findings could have serious implications for upcoming missions to Mars, which includes NASA’s Perseveranceand the ESA’s Rosalind Franklin rover.
Remember back in 2008 when the Phoenix lander on Mars scraped away a few inches of rust-colored regolith to reveal water ice? Or in 2009, when Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter observations revealed vast areas of subsurface ice, event at low latitudes?
These findings – and many more like them – indicate there’s a lot of interesting things going on underneath Mars’ lifeless surface. Since we know from experience on Earth that anywhere there is water, there is life, the question of life on – or under – Mars’s surface is always provocative.
We all know how exploration by rover works. The rover is directed to a location and told to take a sample. Then it subjects that sample to analysis and sends home the results. It’s been remarkably effective.
But it’s expensive and time-consuming to send all this data home. Will this way of doing things still work? Or can it be automated?
The year two thousand and twenty is almost upon us. And as always, space agencies and aerospace companies all around the world are preparing to spend the coming year accomplishing a long list of missions and developments. Between NASA, the ESA, China, SpaceX, and others, there are enough plans to impress even the most curmudgeonly of space enthusiasts.
Next year, the European Space Agency (ESA) will be sending the ExoMars 2020 mission to the Red Planet. This mission consists of an ESA-built rover (Rosalind Franklin) and a Russian-led surface science platform (Kazachok) that will study the Martian environment in order to characterize its surface, atmosphere, and determine whether or not life could have once existed on the planet.
In preparation for this mission, engineers are putting the rover and lander through their paces. This includes the ongoing development of the mission’s parachute system, which is currently in troubleshooting after a failed deployment test earlier this month. These efforts are taking place at the Swedish Space Corporation testing site in Esrange, and involve the largest parachute ever used by a mission to Mars.