ExoMars is a historic project to search for signs of life on Mars. Two spacecraft, the first launched in 2016, the second in 2020, will become the first probes to directly look for traces of biological lifeforms now and in the past on the red planet.
The ExoMars project is joint mission between Roscosmos and ESA.
Jorge Vago, one of the Exomars Project Scientists at the European Space Agency, describes the target: “Mars is a cold, frigid desert, with a very thin atmosphere, that gets bathed in cosmic radiation and intense UV light. It is not a place you want to be.”
“In March, a Russian Proton rocket is going to send our first spacecraft to Mars. We want to solve the mystery of methane on Mars. And a second mission, which will go a few years from now, has a rover and an instrumented surface platform, as well. We really are going for traces of life with the Exomars programme.”
While previous missions have established the habitability of Mars, and the presence of water in the subsurface, this is the first group of spacecraft dedicated to hunting for life. It’s an enormous challenge, as the ExoMars rover, launched in 2020, will encounter huge amounts of fine dust and rocks, which is very challenging for locomotion and hampers the rover’s ability to dig below the surface for signs of ancient life.
Vago sums up the ExoMars challenges: “It is technically hard, it is scientifically very ambitious and also programmatically it is not often that two agencies get together to do missions on another planet.”