Location of four candidate landing sites for Europe’s ExoMars 2018 mission. Later this month, scientists and engineers will meet to choose which two, of four possible landing sites for the ExoMars 2018 mission, should be retained as candidates.  Credit: ESA/CartoDB

Location of four candidate landing sites for Europe’s ExoMars 2018 mission. Later this month, scientists and engineers will meet to choose which two, of four possible landing sites for the ExoMars 2018 mission, should be retained as candidates.
Credit: ESA/CartoDB

At month’s end, there’s a winnowing down of landing sites for Europe’s ExoMars 2018 mission.

There are now four sites under discussion: Mawrth Vallis, Oxia Planum, Hypanis Vallis and Aram Dorsum.

These landing sites are all located relatively close to the Martian equator and to each other. All sites show evidence of having been influenced by water in the past, with large exposures of ancient rocks now accessible at the surface.

Final two sites

Two of the four candidate sites will be downselected October 20-21 for continued analysis. The final decision regarding which of these two sites will be the primary landing site and which the backup will be made during 2017.

ESA's ExoMars Rover Credit: ESA

ESA’s ExoMars Rover
Credit: ESA

Keep in mind that the European Space Agency’s (ESA) ExoMars is a joint two-mission effort between ESA and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency.

— The Trace Gas Orbiter and an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module — known as Schiaparelli — will be launched in March 2016, arriving at Mars seven months later.

— The ExoMars rover and surface platform will depart in 2018, with touchdown on Mars in 2019.

Search underground

The ExoMars rover will search for evidence of Martian life, past or present, in an area with ancient rocks where liquid water was once abundant.

A drill on the rover is being designed to extract samples from up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) below the surface. Given that the surface of Mars is considered hostile to living organism, the search underground has more of a chance of finding preserved evidence, according to ESA.

The drill’s main function is to penetrate the soil, acquire a core sample, extract it and deliver it to the inlet port of the Rover Payload Module. In that module the sample will be distributed, processed and analyzed by the Analytical Laboratory Drawer.

Go to this interactive map visualization tool that shows the candidate landing sites for ESA’s ExoMars rover:

http://nmanaud.github.io/whereonmars/

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