Thales Alenia Space Marks Key Milestone in the ExoMars 2020 ESA mission

The laboratory to analyze samples and discover traces of present and past life on Mars is now ready to be integrated on-board the rover

After a challenging engineering phase, the Analytical Laboratory Drawer (ALD), the core of the Rover of the ExoMars 2020 ESA Program, has been successfully integrated and tested by Thales Alenia Space, Joint Venture between Thales 67% and Leonardo 33%, in its facility in Torino, Italy. Now it is ready to be integrated inside the Rover named Rosalind Franklin, that is provided by Airbus Defense and Space in UK.

The European Rover will be the first capable of drilling two meters into Mars, where ancient biomarkers may still be preserved from the harsh radiation environment on the surface and collecting samples.

The ALD will cover this ambitious task by analyzing the samples, in particular pyrolysis/chemicals derivate, detecting potential organic groups while characterizing the soil’s sample mineralogy with unprecedented microscopic resolution.

The Laboratory embed a set of sophisticated scientific instruments (the infrared hyperspectral microscope MicrOmega, the Raman Laser Spectrometer RLS, the Mars Organic Molecule Analyser MOMA) directly served by a set of mechanisms able to retrieve and process soil samples cored by the Drill, developed and built by Leonardo, in the Mars subsurface. A set of detailed chemistry, physical, and spectral analyses are then run internally to the ALD.

“We are proud of reaching this milestone, a key technical challenge to prove that the unique ALD design and the methodologies specifically studied and adopted for the ExoMars 2020 meets the expectations”, said Walter Cugno – Vice President, Exploration and Science at Thales Alenia Space – “Using its miniaturized life search laboratory and advanced robotic technology, the ExoMars 2020 mission will explore the red planet in search of new evidence to answer questions that have long fascinated humanity”.

In order to exclusively find traces of life on Mars, without bringing some terrestrial ones from the Earth, the laboratory in which the sample is processed and analyzed (UCZ) has been strictly sterilized, ultra-cleaned and integrated in the dedicated Glove Box facility, reaching an unprecedented level of cleanliness for Space application.

To guarantee its proper duty once arrived on Mars facing the Martian environment, the integral combined functionality of the ALD equipment have been verified in the Planetary Environment Simulation Facility located in the Thales Alenia Space, Torino premises, witnessing excellent results, as also recognized by the scientific community:

Jorge Vago, ExoMars mission scientist, ESA: "The ALD is the heart of the ExoMars rover; it is uniquely suited to search for signs of life and obtain corroborating geological information. We have great hopes for this mission's scientific discoveries and thank Thales Alenia Space for their professional work and dedication."

Prof. Fred Goesmann, MOMA Principal investigator, Max Plank Institute (D): “MOMA is perfectly equipped to search for molecular and chiral biosignatures. The final tests after integration at Thales Alenia Space showed that MOMA is working to expectations and that the system is clean.  We thank the Thales Alenia Space team for their care and dedication."

Prof. Jean Pierre Bibring, MicrOmega Principal investigator, CNES (F): “With MicrOmega, coupled in the ALD to RLS and MOMA, ExoMars will perform the unprecedented microscopic characterization of martian samples, aimed at identifying potential witnesses of extra-terrestrial life. Congratulation again to this brilliant achievement of ALD FM integration and test.”

Prof Fernando Rull, RLS Principal investigator, INTA (Sp): “The RLS team would like to underline the technical excellence demonstrated by Thales Alenia Space and their industrial team in implementing a technical solution allowing the instruments in the ALD to investigate the sample material in ultraclean way, an engineering first for planetary missions.”

In Thales Alenia Space the effort continues with the integration and testing of the Rover Ground Test Module, a full Rover simulator equipped with a copy of the ALD module, that will be used to rehearse from Torino all activities commanded to the Rover exploring and running science on Mars. The ExoMars 2016 Mission TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter), also leaded by Thales Alenia Space, will enable the communication with the ExoMars 2020 Rover processing around the Martian orbit all the information to and from Mars.

In parallel, Thales Alenia Space will proceed with the development of the Mission Control Software, and complete the integration and testing of the Descent Module (provided by Lavochkin) including its mating to the Carrier Module (provided by OHB). The two integrated elements will move in July to the Thales Alenia Space Facility in Cannes, where will take place the environmental testing. Before leaving the Thales Alenia Space Facility in Cannes, the Rover, Rosalind Franklin, will meet the Landing Platform Kazachok and the Carrier Module, and jointed together will compose the final Spacecraft flying in July 2020 from Baikonur in Kazakhstan to red planet Mars.

More about the Exomars 2020 mission
ExoMars is an European Space Agency program executed in cooperation with Russian Space Agency Roscosmos with contribution of NASA.  The chronology can be summarized as follows: Launch from Baikonur between 26 July and 11 Aug 2020, cruise to Mars through a direct ballistic trajectory, separate the CM from DM, entry into the Martian atmosphere and the subsequent descent and landing of the Descent Module and its Rover, weighing approximately 2 metric tons, on 19 March 2021; the arrival of a landing platform and egress of the rover; exploration by the rover of a vast area of Mars, with geological/scientific sampling of both the planet’s surface and subsoil, by taking and analyzing soil samples to a depth of 2 meters; search for present or past forms of life in the soil samples that will be processed on the spacecraft; geochemical and atmospheric studies of the surface and underground environments.

Source: Thales
Date: May 8, 2019