The European Space Agency (ESA) is prepping its ExoMars 2020 rover’s ground penetrating radar antenna. Pictured below, one is being pre-cleaned and readied for the sterilization process in an ultra-cleanroom facility.
The item being pampered is the Water Ice Subsurface Deposit Observation on Mars (WISDOM) radar antenna flight model. The unit is built to sound Mars’ subsurface for water ice.
“After pre-cleaning and then the taking of sample swabs, the antenna was placed into our dry heat sterilizer, to target the required 99.9 percent bioburden reduction to meet ExoMars 2020’s cleanliness requirements,” says technician Alan Dowson.
“To check the effectiveness of this process, the swabs are subjected to a comparable heat shock and then cultivated for 72 hours, to analyze the number of spores and bacteria able to survive. The viable bioburden is then calculated for the surface area of the WISDOM antenna. If this level is below the mission’s maximum then it is cleared for delivery,” Dowson adds.
Air goes through a two-stage filter system before entering the cleanroom. According to the ESA, “it contains less than 10 particles smaller than a thousandth of a millimeter per cubic meter. A comparable sample of the outside air could well contain millions.”
Why all this cleaning fuss? Space agencies must comply with the international planetary protection agreement. It focuses on safeguarding solar system bodies from contamination of terrestrial life.
The ExoMars 2020 mission will send the European rover and a Russian surface platform to the red planet in search for evidence of life.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense