The European robot for the future ExoMars space mission, which will drill deep into the Martian soil, is “ready” for takeoff in September 2022, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced on Wednesday.
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This Russian-European space program, initially scheduled for 2020, had to be postponed to 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and technical difficulties.
“All the instruments” of the ESA Rosalind Franklin rover “are ready for take-off, and there are only a few minor adjustments to be completed this month”, specifies the European agency in a press release.
“We are confident that we will be there for the launch in September,” says Pietro Baglioni, leader of the rover team. It will be dropped on Martian soil together with the Russian “Kazatchok” lander.
The parachute tests, carried out in November and December at high altitude, were particularly successful. This is a key step to ensure a smooth arrival on the red planet.
In addition, a replica of the rover descended “for the first time successfully from its landing platform” during simulations, indicates the ESA.
This descent of the robot constitutes a “crucial operation”, which will have to be carried out “very slowly”. The craft is designed to negotiate the steep slope of the lander ramps, “but it will be up to the control team on Earth to choose the safest ramp” to descend.
The Rosalind Franklin rover and the lander are now installed in a clean room at Thales Alenia Space in Turin (Italy). After a final review in April, they will be transported to their launch site at Baikonur in Kazakhstan.
The ExoMars rover is designed to drill the Martian soil up to two meters: a sufficient depth to access any organic matter, which would be well preserved for 4 billion years.
At that time, Mars was more like Earth than it is today, with conditions that could support life and give hope for the discovery of traces of ancient microbial life.