ExoMars to search for alien life
21 June 2013
ESA’s Mars Express orbiter has just celebrated ten years in space, but Europe is already getting ready for the next step in its exploration of the Red Planet. This ambitious double mission, known as ExoMars, will be a partnership between ESA and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos. Separate spacecraft will be sent to Mars during the launch windows of 2016 and 2018.
Their main goal will be to answer one of the outstanding scientific questions of our time: has life ever existed on Mars? ExoMars will also develop new European technologies for landing, roving, drilling into the surface and collecting soil samples. This will pave the way for a Mars sample return mission in the 2020s.
The first ExoMars mission will be launched in January 2016, arriving at Mars nine months later. It includes the Trace Gas Orbiter, which will search for methane and other gases that could be evidence of a living planet. Much of the methane on Earth is produced by living organisms. The orbiter is being built by Thales Alenia Space in Cannes, France.
It will also deliver the Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM) to the surface of Mars, to demonstrate key technologies needed for the 2018 mission and future landing missions. Thales Alenia Space Italy is building the EDM in Turin.
The second mission is scheduled for launch in May 2018, arriving at the planet in early 2019. It will land a rover on Mars - the first one capable of drilling to depths of 2 m and then collecting rock samples. This is essential because radiation and chemicals on the surface can destroy organic materials. This mission will also carry a Surface Platform fitted with scientific instruments to investigate the Martian environment.