Major Mission to Search for Life on Mars: What do NASA and ESA Hope to Find?

Several companies have joined forces to ensure the progress of the future ExoMars mission, the aim of which will be to finally answer the famous question of the presence of life on Mars.

The ExoMars mission may be able to discover traces of life on Mars thanks to the help of a state-of-the-art research rover!

The European Space Agency (ESA), Thales Alenia Space and NASA finally managed to give a second life to the ExoMars mission, the progress of which was threatened by Russia's withdrawal from the project. A new contract finally relaunches this mission whose main objective is to find traces of ancient (or current) life on the red planet.

ExoMars finally relaunched after Russia's withdrawal

Russia's withdrawal following its military commitment to Ukraine in February 2022 had important consequences on the mission preparation schedule but also on the technical and scientific aspects of the project.

The Russian instruments on board the Roslind Franklin rover had to be removed from it, as did the Kazachok landing platform, equipped with 13 scientific instruments and intended to land the rover on Mars. As a result, ESA was forced to thoroughly review the mission, even considering its abandonment.

However, a new contract of 522 million euros was concluded with Thales Alenia Space, a company based in Cannes, to revitalize the development of the rover in question with in particular the realization of a re-entry, descent and landing module for it but also the modification and maintenance of existing equipment when the project was stopped in 2022.

NASA has also made its contribution. Initially planned as solely responsible for the supply of the organic molecule analyzer - mass spectrometer (Moma-MS), the U.S. Space Agency will also take charge of the launch, landing module engines, heating units and provide important support to system engineering to ensure the success of the ExoMars mission.

Thus, this international collaboration project that began in the early 2000s will finally see the light of day after being almost abandoned two years ago, a real relief for scientists.

In search of life on Mars!

Many scientists have long been looking for an answer to the question of life on Mars, whether it is past or present. It is in order to finally find a definitive answer to this question that the ExoMars project was set up in the early 2000s.

Its launch, initially scheduled for September 2022, should now take place between October and December 2028 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The arrival on Mars should therefore be in 2030, either on the Oxia Planum plain or near it in Mawrth Vallis, a large flow channel with thick layers of sediment on the surrounding plateaus, which can house traces of ancient life.

In order to maximize the chances of finding traces of Martian life, the mission rover will be equipped with a drill to perform core drilling up to two meters deep. The chemical, physical and biological properties of the samples collected will then be analyzed directly on site by the mini-laboratory embedded in the rover, the Analytical Laboratory Drawer developed by the Thalès company.

This could make it possible, according to the scientists in charge of the mission, to detect the presence of possible underground bacteria, whether still alive or fossilized, a potential proof that the red planet has sheltered life in its history or perhaps even shelters it today.