March 14th saw the European Space Agency and RosCosmos (Russian Federal Space Agency) formally sign an agreement that will take the two space agencies to Mars on two missions in 2016 and 2018.
The agreement between the two space agencies is something of a trend towards more cooperations between space agencies as budgets are tightened. In this agreement, the ESA and RosCosmos have committed to a partnership on a two-mission campaign to Mars (known as the Exobiology On Mars or ExoMars project) that will launch in 2016 and 2018.
The 2016 mission will see the delivery of a stationary lander and orbiting satellite to Mars. The satellite, the Trace Gas Orbiter, will be scanning the Martian surface for sources of Methane and other gasses indicative of biological life of the kind we have on Earth (methane is particularly interesting since its existence in Mars’ atmosphere indicates that either life is present there or there is active geological activity). By doing this it will help narrow down the choice of landing site for a Martian rover launched in the second part of the mission in 2018.
The stationary lander (EDM)will have a host of instruments from both ESA and RosCosmos on it, designed at helping the second rover in 2018. The anticipated science package on the lander is called DREAMS – Dust characterisation, Risk assessment, and Environment Analyser on the Martian Surface. DREAMS will analyse the Martian atmospherein terms of humidity, temperature, wind velocity and dust content, while also carrying a camera to check the effect of Martian dust on visibility. The final sensor is quite interesting, measuring the effect of electrical charge on dust in the atmosphere (ARES).
In 2018, the actual ExoMars robotic rover will be launched atop a Russian Proton rocket. The rover itself is packed with instruments designed to find life up close and personal below the surface of Mars, where it would be shielded from the Red Planet’s harsh external environment. On board the rover will be:
PANCAM – PANoramic CAMera
In order to get around the massive time lag between commands sent to the rover from Earth, the Rover’s PANCAM will feed image data to an obstacle-recognising autopilot, allowing the rover to move around obstacles automatically without human intervention. Will also serve as a high resolution imager for taking records of areas of interest like geological features.
ISEM- Infrared Spectrometer for ExoMars.
Linked to PANCAM, ISEM will analyse the infrared spectrum of surface rocks and geology looking for rocks containing molecules of interest.
CLUPI – CLose UP Imager
A separate imager for high magnification analysis of drill samples.
WISDOM – Water Ice and Subsurface Deposit Information On Mars.
A ground penetrating radar instrument looking for signs of water around 2-3 meters under the Rover, which will select targets for samples.
A neutron detector looking for emitted neutrons from hydrogen atoms, which will be different depending on whether the hydrogen atom is present in water, ice, or as hydroxyl groups in hydrated minerals.
Drill and Analytical Suite
Ma_MISS – Mars Multispectral Imager for Subsurface Studies
MaMISS is an infrared spectrometer inside the drill, looking OUTSIDE at the rocks that the drill has passed through. By looking outside the sample area, the samples themselves can be put into context as being reliable or simply an anomaly in local geography.
MicrOmega is another infrared spectrometer looking at the crushed sample material grain composition and grain sizes to find the geological origin and forming processes of the rock sample taken.
MOMA – Mars Organic Molecule Analyser
MOMA is actually a combination instrument, comprising of a desorption laser to vaporise samples before feeding the vapour to a gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer. MOMA will definitively identify a sample’s composition – including whether the sample contains atoms and molecules common to life.
A Raman-type Spectrometer, RAMAN will be used in conjunction with MicrOmega while analysing samples. Raman will shine a high intensity laser at the sample and look for the light reflected back off the target, as different minerals will absorb different amounts of energy, allowing detection of minerals by their absorption signature. RAMAN will look for organic compounds and identify mineral phases produced by water related processes.
The collaboration between the ESA and RosCosmos can be essentially split into ESA providing the probes and RosCosmos providing the rockets to launch them and the descent mechanisms to deliver the probes to the surface of Mars. Both agencies also contribute expertise and instruments to all three devices, with NASA hanging around in the wings providing engineering support designing communications equipment for the extremely long ranges involved.
The first launch (of the Trace Gas Orbiter and EDM static analysis station) is slated for January 2016.
Image: ESA Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain, and Head of Roscosmos Vladimir Popovkin met at ESA Headquarters in Paris on 14 March 2013 to sign the agreement between the two agencies on the ExoMars project.