Oxia Planum has been recommended as the primary candidate for the landing site of the ExoMars 2018 mission. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin & NASA MGS MOLA Science Team

Oxia Planum has been recommended as the primary candidate for the landing site of the ExoMars 2018 mission.
Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin & NASA MGS MOLA Science Team

 

Oxia Planum has been recommended as the primary candidate for the landing site of the European Space Agency/Roscosmos ExoMars 2018 mission.

ExoMars 2018, comprising a rover and surface platform, is the second of two missions making up the ExoMars program, a joint effort between ESA and Russia’s Roscosmos. Launch is planned for May 2018, with touchdown on the Red Planet in January 2019.

ESA's ExoMars Rover Credit: ESA

ESA’s ExoMars Rover
Credit: ESA

Meanwhile, the Trace Gas Orbiter and the Schiaparelli entry, descent and landing demonstrator module will be launched in March 2016, arriving at Mars around this time next year.

Schiaparelli will land in Meridiani Planum. The orbiter will study the atmosphere and act as a relay for the second mission.

Biosignature search

For the ExoMars 2018 landing site, a preliminary analysis shows that Oxia Planum “appears to satisfy the strict engineering constraints while also offering some very interesting opportunities to study, in situ, places where biosignatures might best be preserved,” explains Jorge Vago, ESA’s project scientist.

Oxia Planum contains one of the largest exposures of rocks on Mars that are around 3.9 billion years old and clay-rich, indicating that water once played a role at that selected site.

Location of four candidate landing sites for Europe’s ExoMars 2018 mission. Scientists and engineers recently met to select Oxia Planum as the top candidate site for the rover. Credit: ESA/CartoDB

Location of four candidate landing sites for Europe’s ExoMars 2018 mission. Scientists and engineers recently met to select Oxia Planum as the top candidate site for the rover.
Credit: ESA/CartoDB

Drill down

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.

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