ESA’s ExoMars program has entered the final stage of construction by signing a hardware contract with Thales Alenia Space at the Paris Air and Space show, on June 17th.
“The award of this contract provides continuity to the work of the industrial team members of Thales Alenia Space on this complex mission, and will ensure that it remains on track for launch in January 2016,” stated ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, Alvaro Giménez, .
The project, aimed at determining if life has ever existed on Mars, will be split into two separate launches over 2016 and 2018. The first launch will contain the Trace Gas Orbiter which will seek the existence of biological methane, a by-product of life functions, and the Entry, Descent and Landing Demonstrator Module (EDM), which will test the verify the functionality of the landing system for the second mission.
Once that technology has been validated, it will be used to land a 350 kg rover on the surface of Mars in 2018. The rover will contain deep-drilling apparatus, capable of drilling to depths of 2 meters, where it is hoped that the soil will have protected any organic material from the harsh radiation that exists on the Martian surface.
Thales Alenia Space Italy are the prime contractor for the ExoMars mission, and will be building the EDM for the first launch. ESA will be teaming up with Roscosmos, who will provide launch vehicles and expertise in the form of software programming and the second EDL system.
The project life-cycle has been a bumpy road so far, with America withdrawing support from the project and with France questioning the usefulness of ExoMars. The signing of the contract with Thales Alenia Space is seen as a positive step securing the future of the project.
The contract is estimated to be worth about 230 million euros ($300 million),
Below, is there a biological source to Martian methane? ExoMars hopes to find out: