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The search for life on Mars goes on with ExoMars 2028

09/04/2024

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Thales Alenia Space has signed a contract with the European Space Agency to continue work to take a European rover to search for traces of life on Mars

The European mission to Mars is restarting thanks to the determination of the European Space Agency supported by the Italian Space Agency, the UK Space Agency and a renewed partnership with NASA, with the mission's original science objectives preserved.

ExoMars 2028 is an unprecedented scientific and technological challenge, from the use of innovative materials for thermal protection during entry into Mars's atmosphere to the development of software for navigation, control and landing on the planet's surface.

The results of these technological challenges will make a fundamental contribution to the ongoing robotic and human exploration of the Red Planet and Solar System.

Turin, April 9, 2024 - Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), has signed a framework contract divided into different tranches with the European Space Agency (ESA), worth a total of 522m, to continue essential activities for the completion of the ExoMars 2028 mission. The contract includes the development of the Mars Entry, Descent and Landing Module (EDLM) and maintenance activities on vehicles already built for the 2022 mission.

The upcoming ExoMars mission, set for launch from the Kennedy Space Center between October and December 2028, will explore the Martian surface in search of signs of past life, a quest that has long fascinated humanity. Led by ESA with a major involvement by NASA, ExoMars 2028 will deliver a European rover capable of autonomous driving on the planet's surface. Scheduled to reach Mars in 2030 after a long voyage, the rover, fitted with a drill developed by Leonardo, will collect soil samples by drilling into the Martian soil up to 2 meters deep and will analyze their chemical, physical and biological properties using its advanced Analytical Laboratory Drawer (ALD) developed by Thales Alenia Space. One of the mission objectives is to search for subsurface bacteria, living or fossilized, which would be evidence of extant or previous life on the Red Planet.

Thales Alenia Space_Master Images Programmes

In the meantime, the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), built with Thales Alenia Space as prime contractor, is still orbiting Mars. Tasked with detecting trace gases, especially methane, in the Martian atmosphere, TGO plays a key role in understanding potential indicators of life on Mars. Additionally, it continues to transmit most of the data from Mars, including from NASA's Curiosity and Perseverance rovers, contributing to ongoing research efforts. TGO still has a significant amount of fuel, and its operational life will be extended to support the ExoMars 2028 mission.

Thales Alenia Space's role

As industrial prime contractor for the ExoMars 2028 mission, Thales Alenia Space is responsible for designing the Entry, Descent and Landing Module (EDLM), developing its radar altimeter, integrating the Analytical Laboratory Drawer (ALD) on the rover and developing the onboard computer. Thales Alenia Space is also responsible for assembly, integration and test activities (AIT), as well as overseeing the launch campaign.

Under this contract, Thales Alenia Space will lead the definition of the Entry, Descent and Landing Module and maintenance activities for the transfer module (carrier) and the rover, including upgrades and replacement of time-sensitive elements. A full audit and tests will be carried out on the rover to ensure its readiness for the new mission. In addition, replacement of some payload elements is planned, such as integration of the new Enfys infrared spectrometer. The batteries and tanks will be replaced on the carrier module as well as potential adjustments to align with the updated trajectories to Mars. New developments on the descent module and landing pad are also required, because the European avionics part of the descent module will be reused.

Thales Alenia Space

From the Sun to Saturn, and from Mercury to Venus, Jupiter and Mars, our solutions have been on every space odyssey seeking to unveil the universe's most closely guarded secrets said Thales Alenia Space CEO, Herv Derrey. In the near future, the Moon, with ARTEMIS II and III missions, will be in the spotlight and our company will be in the front seat of manned lunar exploration, working in particular on Orion spacecraft's European service module, Gateway cislunar space station and lunar multi-purpose habitats. Today's ExoMars 2028 contract strengthens Thales Alenia Space's position as a major leader in the field of space exploration.

We're truly honored that ESA has renewed its trust in our company by awarding us the contract for the renewal of this challenging mission to search for traces of life on Mars, said Massimo Comparini, Deputy CEO and Senior Executive Vice President, Observation, Exploration and Navigation at Thales Alenia Space. Thales Alenia Space's advanced technology, know-how and experience puts us at the forward edge of space exploration. Today, we're celebrating the follow-up of an extraordinary international program, the result of constructive synergy and cooperation between ESA, the other agencies involved and the space industry. We're ready for the crucial months ahead and confident in our ability to keep pushing the boundaries of Universe exploration, thanks to the constant work of our specialist engineers and technicians, committed every day to meeting these challenges.

Industrial consortium: who's doing what?

Thales Alenia Space in Italy is leading a consortium comprising Airbus Defence & Space in the UK for the rover vehicle and for the mechanical, thermal and propulsion systems of the landing module; ArianeG
LINK: https://www.thalesgroup.com/en/worldwide/space/press_release/search-li...
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