15 July 2012, 13:15

ExoMars program gathers strength

ExoMars program gathers strength

The Russian Federal Space Agency Roscosmos and the European Space Agency (ESA) are expected to sign an agreement on the implementation of the second stage of the ExoMars program in the fall of 2012.

Under the agreement, the 2018 mission should see Russia fulfill more than 50 percent of the volume of work pertaining to the program. The information came during talks on the sidelines of the 2012 Farnborough Air Show earlier this week.

In February 2012, NASA announced its withdrawal from the ExoMars program, citing financial woes. As for the program, it includes a spate of several spacecraft elements to be sent to Mars on two launches. The launch of Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM), as well as the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) is scheduled for 2016.

The EDM will enable the ESA to hammer out new technologies related to landing on Mars, a mission that is yet to be implemented by the ESA. This is not the case with Russian and US space vehicles which earlier successfully landed on the Red Planet, says Alexander Zakharov of the Moscow-based Institute for Space Exploration.

"Russian engineers will help their European colleagues to successfully implement the 2016 mission," Zakharov says, referring to the EDM which he recalls is currently being assembled in Europe. "The goal is to resolve an array of technological problems which is why there will be no research equipment on board the EDM," Zakharov explains.

The EDM will be equipped with special descent and landing sensors, while the TGO will deliver several Russian-made devices to Mars, Zakharov goes on to say.

"They will include three infra-red spectrometers, designed to study Mars’ atmosphere for sources of methane, carbonic dioxide and water. The spectrometers will also help monitor temperature in the atmosphere," Zakharov says. "The Russian equipment on the ExoMars will also include a neutron detector to study water distribution under Martian ground up to 1 meter deep."

The detector will also be used for defining the level of radiation on the orbit which is relevant for future piloted missions. What about methane – the scientists want to find out how this gas originated on Mars. There are no volcanoes on Mars which are one of the sources of this gas and it can have a biological origin. The orbiter will produce a map of methane outputs from the underground of the planet in order to define a site for the landing on the next stage of the ExoMars project, which starts with the launch of the second Proton rocket.

"In 2018, the expedition’s line up will also include a landing platform, which was designed by Russia’s Lavochkin scientific development and production center. This landing platform will deliver the European mars rover on the surface of the planet. The rover will have Russia’s (4:02) infrared spectrometer and neutron detector to study Martian ground. Most of the platform’s equipment will be Russian. The approximate list of the equipment includes a manipulator for taking ground samples, a weather station, a panoramic camera, a magnetometer and a seismometer."

The key task of the ExoMars mission will be the search for possible signs of Martian life. The traces of microorganisms could be at a depth of two meters below the surface because deadly radiation does not reach there. The Mars Rover is equipped with a long drill to collect soil samples. Daily the rover will cover 100 meters. Russia’s involvement in such a project is a good opportunity for supporting its research program in this area after the failure of the Phobos-Grunt mission.

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