Europe’s ExoMars rover completes environmental tests ahead of launch this year

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover isn’t the only robotic explorer set to head to the Red Planet this year. It will also be joined by the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosalind Franklin rover, as part of the ESA and Roscosmos ExoMars mission.

Like Mars 2020, the ExoMars rover will be searching for signs of life on the planet, collecting samples using its drill and analyzing them with its analytical laboratory which can investigate the mineralogical and chemistry of the samples. The mission isn’t in competition with NASA, however, as all involved agree that two rovers are better than one. In fact, NASA has contributed elements to the ExoMars rover including parts for the Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer (MOMA) tool which will search for organic molecules that could indicate the presence of life.

ExoMars Rover in Thermal Vaccum Testing
ExoMars Rover in Thermal Vaccum Testing Airbus

The ExoMars mission is set to launch between 26 July and 11 August this year, and the rover has now completed its final environmental tests before the takeoff. The tests it has undergone so far include thermal tests, in which the rover is heated and then cooled to extreme temperatures to simulate the environments of launch and its journey through space, and vacuum tests, in which the rover must operate in a very low-pressure atmosphere with high levels of carbon dioxide, similar to what it will encounter in the Martian atmosphere.

Last year, the rover was also put through what is called an “environmental test campaign,” which included testing whether a replica model of the rover could survive physical forces like the extreme shaking which will occur during the launch. This is tested using a vibration table to simulate the juddering of being attached to a rocket during take off. The model was also subjected to shock tests, which simulate the tough impact of entering the Martian atmosphere and deploying parachutes.

With these tests completed, all that remains are final checks of the rover’s system before launch day. “This includes checking the alignment of instruments working together, such as the imaging systems, and a final functional test of the integrated system after the environmental campaign,” the ESA explained on its website. “Once these verifications on the rover are completed, a functional check of the interfaces with the surface platform and descent module that will deliver it safely to the surface of Mars will be performed at Thales Alenia Space, Cannes, France.”

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