European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover is constructed and ready to explore

NASA’s Mars 2020 mission isn’t the only the rover headed to the red planet — the European Space Agency also has the ExoMars project to send its own rover there. Recently, construction was completed on the ExoMars rover and soon it will be ready for launch next year.

The last step is the assembly process was adding the high-definition camera which can capture both panoramic and close-up views of the Martian terrain. The rover will focus on collecting geographical information about Mars, using tools including a drill to collect samples. The aim is to discover more about the history of water on the planet, and whether it was ever capable of supporting life.

esa exomars construction complete rosalind franklin rover
The Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover recently had its Panoramic Camera system (PanCam) fitted. The camera suite sits on top of a mast 2 m above ground level and will be fundamental in the day-to-day scientific operations of the rover to assist with scientific decisions on where to drive and drill. Airbus–M.Alexander

Below you can see a sped-up clip of the engineers working on the rover’s drill, which can be moved between different orientations. When the drill is not in use it is stowed horizontally, and it is deployed to a vertical position when it is needed to drill through the Martian surface rock. Within the chamber is a drill that can reach up to 2 meters below the surface, allowing the rover to retrieve sub-surface samples and test them in its onboard laboratory.

The drill of the Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover during integration and testing at Airbus Defense and Space, Stevenage, U.K. Credit: Airbus

David Parker, ESA’s Director of Human and Robotic Exploration, described the completion of the build as a “major milestone” for the ExoMars program. He and the team are feeling positive about the next round of testing before launch: “We’re looking forward to completing the final rounds of tests before the rover is declared flight-ready and closed inside the landing platform and descent module that will deliver it safely to the surface of Mars,” he said in a statement.

To test the rover’s fitness for its mission, it will undergo a thorough series of environmental tests including sitting on a vibration bench which will replicate the shaking the rover will experience, as well as spending time in a vacuum chamber. The rover needs to be able to withstand extreme cold too, with engineers expecting it will face temperatures of -120°C (-184°F) outside, and -60°C (-76°F) inside the rover, not to mention the thin and carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere.

The launch for the mission is set for just under one year’s time, with the launch window running from 26 July to 13 August 2020.

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