Is there life on Mars? ExoMars 2020
The first ExoMars mission arrived at the Red Planet in October and now the second mission has been confirmed to complete its construction for a July 2020 launch.
The main objective of the ExoMars programme is to address one of the most outstanding scientific questions of our time: is there, or has there ever been, life on Mars? The Trace Gas Orbiter will soon be exploring this question from orbit; it will take a detailed inventory of trace gases, such as methane, that might be linked to biological or geological processes. It will also act as a communications relay for various craft – in particular for 2020’s rover and surface platform. The rover will be the first capable of drilling 2m into Mars, where ancient biomarkers may still be preserved from the harsh radiation environment on the surface.
“ExoMars is a cornerstone of ESA’s exploration programme,” says David Parker, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration. “Using its miniaturised life-search laboratory and advanced robotic technology, the mission will explore the Red Planet in search of new evidence to answer questions that have long fascinated humanity.”
The landing site for the mission is still under consideration, with Oxia Planum a strong candidate. The target region shows evidence for a past wet environment that may have had suitable conditions for preserving ancient biosignatures. ESA and Roscosmos are expected to confirm the landing site around six months before launch.