Was There Life on Mars? UK Scientists Play Key Part in NASA Mission to Red Planet

Panorama of Perseverance Rover’s landing site on Mars. (Credit: NASA)

SWINDON, UK (UK Space Agency PR) — After a seven-month journey, NASA’s car-sized Mars Perseverance rover will make its final descent to the Red Planet to begin its search for traces of life.

The rover’s mission – backed by the UK government – is to explore and collect samples for future return to Earth from diverse ancient environments on Mars. Supported by over £400,000 in funds from the UK Space Agency, researchers at Imperial College London and the Natural History Museum will help to decide which samples are sent to Earth in a search for evidence of ancient microbial life on Mars.

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ESA Mars Orbiters Support NASA Perseverance Landing

ESA’s Trace Gas Orbiter will relay data from NASA’s Perseverance rover to ground stations on Earth. (Credit: ESA)
  • On 18 February, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover will land on the Red Planet
  • ESA’s Mars orbiters – the ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Mars Express – are supporting the landing
  • TGO will relay important data from Perseverance to Earth as soon as four hours after landing
  • Mars Express is monitoring the local conditions at the landing site, Jezero Crater
  • Both ESA orbiters are providing context images of the region
  • TGO will attempt to image the rover in the weeks after landing

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is due to land on the Red Planet at 21:43 CET on 18 February 2021. In order to communicate with Earth from its landing site in Jezero Crater, the rover will rely on spacecraft orbiting Mars to relay the images and other data it collects back to Earth and pass on the commands from engineers beamed across space in the other direction.

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Russia Achieves Clean Launch Record for Second Year in Row

Soyuz-2 rocket lifts off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome with 36 OneWeb satellites. (Credit: Arianespace)

MOSCOW (Roscosmos PR) — The outgoing year 2020 has become a difficult test for the entire world marked by the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Many world economic players have encountered objective difficulties in the implementation of previously outlined plans.

Unfortunately, Roscosmos also had to correct a number of plans, including those related to launch activities. Nevertheless, Roscosmos management put the quality of production and the safety of personnel working at the Russian rocket and space industry enterprises and cosmodromes at the forefront.

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ExoMars Rover Upgrades and Parachute Tests

The Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover after completing environmental and vacuum testing in Toulouse, France. The rover was tested in a clean room to withstand conditions similar to those on Mars. (Credit: Airbus Space)

TOULOUSE, France (ESA PR) — The second ExoMars mission, scheduled for launch to the Red Planet in 2022, is taking advantage of the extra time to upgrade some of the rover’s instruments and get ready for the next parachute high-altitude drop tests.

The new launch date on the horizon is allowing more margin for replacements and repairs to the ExoMars  Rosalind Franklin rover.

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ExoMars Launch Postponed 2 Years Until 2022

ExoMars orbiter and rover (Credit: ESA/ATG medialab)

PARIS (ESA PR) — The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Roscosmos Space Corporation have decided to postpone the launch of the second ExoMars mission to study the Red Planet to 2022.

The joint ESA-Roscosmos project team evaluated all the activities needed for an authorisation to launch, in order to analyse the risks and schedule. With due consideration of the recommendations provided by European and Russian Inspectors General, ExoMars experts have concluded that tests necessary to make all components of the spacecraft fit for the Mars adventure need more time to complete.

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ExoMars 2020 Aerodynamic Shield Flight Sample Delivered to ESA

Mars 2020 shield (Credit: Roscosmos)

CANNES (Roscosmos PR) — ExoMars-2020 aerodynamic shield flight sample delivered from NPO Lavochkin (part of Roscosmos) to Thales Alenia Space (Cannes, France).

The TASinF specialists unpacked the shield, cleaned and placed it in the clean area ISO7, performed all the necessary equipment checks. At the moment, preparatory works to install the aerodynamic shield are underway to conduct further joint tests as part of the spacecraft.

ExoMars-2020 mission is the second stage of Roscosmos largest international project together with the European Space Agency to explore Mars surface and subsurface in the area next to the landing site, geological research and searching for traces of possible life existence on the planet. The spacecraft is to open a new stage in space exploration for the world scientific community.

NPO Lavochkin acts as the general contractor and works coordinator from the Russian side, as well as designer and manufacturer of the descent module with the landing platform. The mission is scheduled for launch in the window between July 26 – August 13, 2020.

ExoMars Rover Completes Environmental Tests

ExoMars rover undergoing environmental testing. (Credit: Airbus)

TOULOUSE, France (ESA PR) — The Rosalind Franklin rover of the joint ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars mission completed a series of environmental tests at the end of 2019 at Airbus, Toulouse, France. This included final thermal and vacuum tests where the Rover is heated and cooled to simulate the temperatures of its journey through space and on the surface of Mars.

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ESA Reports Promising Progress for ExoMars Parachutes

A series of clips from different angles and at different speeds showing parachute extraction tests using a NASA/JPL test rig powered by compressed air.  The lid of the parachute assembly is pulled along a suspended cable at high speed while the end of the assembly is fixed to a wall. When the release mechanism is activated, the parachute bag is pulled away from the parachute at the target speed, mimicking the extraction as it will be on Mars. At the highest speeds, the tests enable the extraction to take place at more than 200 km/h.

PARIS (ESA PR) — A series of ground-based tests designed to check the extraction of the ExoMars 2020 mission’s parachutes from their bags have started successfully with promising results to keep the mission on track for next year’s launch.

Landing on Mars is a high-risk endeavour with no room for error. In just six minutes, a descent module with its precious cargo cocooned inside has to slow from around 21 000 km/h at the top of the planet’s atmosphere, to a soft landing at the surface controlled by the lander’s propulsion system.

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Germany Invests 3.3 Billion Euros in European Space Exploration, Becomes ESA’s Largest Contributor

  • Three years after the last ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial Level, held in Lucerne, Switzerland, government representatives from the 22 Member States met in Seville, Spain, on 27 and 28 November 2019 and committed a total of almost 14.4 billion euro [$15.87 billion] for space programmes over the next few years.
  • Germany is contributing 3.3 billion euro [$3.6 billion] to ESA programmes focusing on Earth observation, telecommunications, technological advancement and commercialisation / NewSpace.
  • At 22.9 percent, Germany is now ESA’s largest contributor, followed by France (18.5 percent, 2.66 billion euro), Italy (15.9 percent, 2.28 billion euro) and the United Kingdom (11.5 percent, 1.65 billion euro).
  • The ESA Council Meeting at Ministerial Level is the highest political decision-making body, and it defines the content and financial framework for ESA’s space programmes every two to three years.
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Italy Boosts Contribution to ESA Budget

SEVILLE, Spain (ASI PR) — In Seville, Spain, the institutional representatives and heads of the countries that make up the European Space Agency (ESA) have set the course towards new spatial horizons in the coming years. The share of the Italian contribution rises, while Samantha Cristoforetti will return to orbit.

An increase of almost one billion euros [$1.1 billion] compared to the previous Ministerial is what the Italian delegation to the ESA Ministerial Council 2019 has destined as a contribution of our country to the budget of the ESA for the next three to four years. 

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UK Invests in European Space Agency Programs

SEVILLE, Spain (UKSA PR) — The UK Space Agency has today (28 November) announced it will invest £374m [$411.75 million] per year with the European Space Agency (ESA) to deliver international space programmes over the next five years.

The UK is one of the founding members of ESA, an inter-governmental organisation established in 1975 to promote cooperation in space research, technology and applications development. ESA is independent of the EU, bringing together countries across Europe and around the world.

Membership enables the UK to collaborate with space agencies across the world on projects like the International Space Station and the ExoMars programme to send a UK-built rover to search for signs of life on Mars.

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ExoMars Rover Ready for Environmental Testing

STEVENAGE, UK (ESA PR) — The Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover has completed its construction activities in the UK and will now depart to France for testing under the conditions of the Red Planet’s environment.

The final pieces of the rover’s scientific suite of instruments were attached at the Airbus Defence and Space site in Stevenage over the last weeks. The finishing touches included the ‘eyes’ of the rover: the high-resolution cameras that will provide panoramic and close-up images of the terrain that the rover will explore once on Mars in 2021.

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ExoMars Parachute Fails in Test

ExoMars 2020 parachute deployment sequence (Credit: ESA)

KIRUNA, Sweden, 12 August 2019 (ESA PR) — As the second ExoMars mission, comprising a rover and surface science platform, progresses towards launch next year, teams continue to troubleshoot the parachute design following an unsuccessful high-altitude drop test last week.

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