“4,000 million years ago, the surface of Mars was very similar to Earth’s, when life appeared on our planet,” says George Vago. project scientist of ExoMars mission in 20BITS. That’s the basis they want to send a rover to Mars at the European Space Agency and continue to investigate what the Red Planet was like in the past and If there was life, in the past“Because it is difficult for life to exist on Mars today, because there is no liquid water near the surface and the atmospheric pressure is very low.”
This part of Martian space exploration was originally planned to launch in 2018, then pushed back to 2020, but Vago admitted that the team felt it was not ready yet and 2022 is being considered as the new date. kept as. Earlier this year, ESA assured that the Rosalind Franklin rover, the protagonist of this mission, was ready, however, the war between Ukraine and Russia has delayed its shipment to Mars. Why has the war affected the project? Will the rover finally launch or will it be canceled for good? Why is ExoMars important in space research on Mars? This mission will help us to reveal unknown things about habitable planets, but first we have to solve the questions that revolve around it.
Although in 2020, Wago confirmed that the Rosalind Franklin rover and hardware were ready, there was still work to be done: “We hadn’t finished testing all software and avionics part”, Furthermore, he comments that the pandemic hit him hard, as ESA’s teams are international. The expert details that they had engineers from all over Europe and cooperation from Russia.
“With COVID-19, it became absolutely impossible, there came a time when it was unforgivable“Vago recalls. Mentioned all aspects project scientist If they go ahead with their intention to send the rover in 2020, they put the mission at great risk.
Vago believes the decision to postpone ExoMars to 2022 was “right at the time” and, in fact, made sure they were ready this year. ,Russia invaded 10 days before everything was shipped to Baikonur [base de lanzamiento espacial ruso]to start the launch campaign -Professional tells-. It was like a bucket of cold water because there we were, super-tested and ready with everything we needed. Who would have thought something like this would happen?”
Russia’s role in the mission
Specifically, the Russians were focusing on two key points in the launch of Rosalind Franklin into space. First they were going to provide a rocket to launch the rover from Russia’s Baikonur base in Kazakhstan. However, the most important element that Wago highlights is the lander, which they did together: “Russia was in charge of the structural part and the propulsion system. And we had flight computers, software, parachutes, radar that measures ground speed distance…”.
With sanctions imposed on Russia for its occupation in Ukraine, Roscosmos (the Russian space agency) cut ties with ESA and this meant the end of its collaboration on ExoMars. It obliges ESA Resume parts of the project that were previously closed And this will delay the mission by more years.
How will they solve Russia’s absence in the project?
Last Wednesday, the European Space Agency announced its decision to move forward with ExoMars. However, to do this they would have to build their own new landing system and, as Vago explains, “it’s not something that can be done in two days or two years”. A new release date: 2028.
“After making one with the Russians we have a lot of things that have already been done And the ones we’re going to use because they’re new. We’re not going to start from scratch, but it has its complications—admit it. project scientist, In the structure and propulsion part, our hands are a bit tied because what we do is work with what we’ve already developed. It needs to be kept in mind that we already have the new lander design.”
While completing these tasks, Vago insisted that the team should continue a maintenance schedule for all parts, including part of the landing system carried out with the Russians. The reason, he says, is because they need to make sure everything is in good order by the time they start taking everything apart for the new lander.
Although ESA intends to reuse most of the technology already produced, it is true that they will have to discard some parts. Vago gives an example: “The rover’s battery was designed to last for a certain amount of time And we can’t use it to fly in 2028.”
Rosalind Franklin’s Technique
The rover, which will travel to Mars a decade after the originally scheduled date (if all goes well this time), is “unique,” according to Vago. is one of the reasons experts classify it as Their drill is capable of penetrating two meters into the surface of MarsWhile the deepest ever dug on the neighboring planet is 10 cm.
“This is very important from a scientific point of view because the atmospheric pressure of Mars at an altitude of 30 kilometers is the same as that of Earth – says project scientist Correct ExoMars-. Cosmic radiation penetrates the atmospheric layers and also penetrates the ground And, because they are high-energy particles, over years they destroy the biotraces we want to study. This would have acted as a shield, so ESA hopes to be able to collect organic molecules in a better state of preservation.
Another technical point that sets Rosalind Franklin apart from other rovers that have been sent to Mars before Your devices work “as one” instead of separatelyThat is, they complement each other.
“When we take pictures with cameras, we start with wide-angle pictures where you can see everything around you, but we have cameras that move up with higher and higher resolution images , until we reach the microscope that is in the drill box. It is capable of taking images with a resolution of 20 microns per pixel, which we use when we look at the sample that we collected with the drill Having more We continue in a similar way with the rest of the measurements that we take with the instruments inside the lab,
This laboratory has three notable instruments: two for mineralogy, one for infrared and Raman laser spectrometers (Spanish), and another for observing organic molecules. The latter mentioned is the largest that the rover has and its technology has been developed by the teams SAM on Curiosity and COSAC on Rosetta.
According to Vago, the instrument that will make it possible to observe organic molecules at Rosaline Franklin will work with an ultraviolet laser. “It is capable of extracting organics without modifying the oxidants present in the Martian soil, which has complicated the detection of these molecules in all missions to Mars so far,” the expert explains.
Beyond technology that will help direct scientific observation, Vago believes it’s special locomotion system With which they have equipped the ESA rover. “She’s able to use the wheels not only as they normally would by rotating them, but she’s also able to use them like the legs of an insect,” he says.
Thanks to this system, Vago comments that Rosalyn Franklin You’ll be able to traverse “sandy or somewhat treacherous” terrain with more ease. “It is slower and uses more energy – recognizes Wago-, but it allows us to move through more complex terrain.” Earth researchers will try to send the rover on safe routes, however, this technology will allow it to recover from any setbacks, as happened with Spirit at the beginning of the century.
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