A demanding test campaign is underway for a representative model of the ExoMars rover. Set to land on the Red Planet in 2021, the mission is a joint effort between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos.
The program aims to answer a popular question—has life ever existed on Mars? The first part already launched in 2016, consisting of the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). Part one is in the hunt for atmospheric gases that may connect to active geological or biological processes.
The rover will be the second and final piece to the ExoMars package, and will provide the surface science platform. According to ESA, the rover “will be the first of its kind to drill below the surface—down to 2 m—and determine if evidence of life is buried underground, protected from the destructive radiation that impinges the surface today.”
Mechanical, electrical, and thermal components and its interfaces with scientific instruments must all be tested to ensure they can survive the harsh Mars conditions.
The rover’s structural and thermal model was shaken on a vibration table, simulating the intensity of the Proton rocket that will carry it into space. Next, the model will have to withstand powerful shocks, representing high-speed planet entry when the parachute deploys, and the surface touchdown on Mars.
“The tests will be conducted in a chamber to simulate the low atmospheric pressure of Mars—less than 1 percent of Earth’s average sea level pressure—and its carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere. The rover will also need to operate at temperatures down to –120ºC. A closed compartment inside the rover, where Martian soil samples will be analyzed, will be thermally controlled to maintain temperatures between +20ºC and –40ºC,” according to ESA.
The current test series will end in August 2018, where it will be transported to Moscow to experience more harsh environment evaluations.
“This campaign kicks off a series of tests that will verify the mechanical and thermal design of the ExoMars rover, essential preparation that brings us a step closer to roving on the Red Planet,” says Pietro Baglioni, ESA ExoMars rover team leader.
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