The future ExoMars mission passes its deep drilling test

Paris | The replica of the European robot for the future “ExoMars” mission, which will take off in the fall of 2022 to explore Martian soil, has passed its first deep drilling test, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced on Wednesday.

On Earth, the “twin” of the rover Rosalind Franklin “drilled and extracted samples 1.7 meters deep”, “much deeper than anything that has ever been done on the red planet”, where the record is of 7 centimeters, according to ESA.

This success marks a “promising first step” for the ExoMars mission, the agency welcomes in a press release. The Russian-European space program, initially planned for 2020, has been postponed to 2022, in particular because of the Covid pandemic.

ESA Rosalind Franklin’s rover – named after a British molecular biologist – is designed to drill into Martian soil up to two meters: enough depth to access possible organic material that has been well preserved for 4 billion years. ‘years.

In those distant days, Mars looked more like Earth than it is today, with conditions that could harbor life and which give hope for the discovery of traces of ancient microbial life.

The replica of the ExoMars rover, called the “Ground Test Model”, took its first samples using a Martian terrain simulator at the premises of the aerospace company Alec in Turin, Italy.

The drilling was done in a well filled with various rocks, including a block of cemented clay, by offloading the device to recreate the gravity of Mars, weaker than that of the Earth. The collected sample was then returned to the lab inside the robot for analysis, as is expected on Mars.

“The reliable collection of samples at depth is the key to ExoMars’ main scientific objective: to study the chemical composition of soils that have not been subjected to damaging ionizing radiation (that of solar winds and cosmic rays, editor’s note), and thus detect old signs of life, ”explains the researcher in charge of the project, Jorge Vago.

The real rover Rosalind Franklin is in preparation for its take-off in about a year. The first ExoMars launch window will open on September 20, 2022.

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