The electrifying message could arrive sometime in the years to come: ‘There are signs of life on Mars!’
The historic finding will have travelled 500 million kilometres from the enigmatic red planet’s surface to hit humanity with an electro-shock, communicated from the ExoMars 2020 Rover after its ingenious robotic mini-lab, the so-called Analytical Laboratory Drawer, analysed soil samples to find trace bacteria as deep as two meters for the first time.
“I am personally convinced that we will find signs of life –either past or present--on Mars”Walter Cugno, Thales Alenia Space Vice President for Space and Exploration.
“That is because we already have found a lot of methane in the Martian atmosphere as well as huge amounts of water below the surface of Mars.” says Walter Cugno, Thales Alenia Space Vice President for Space and Exploration.
In fact, the company has played a key role in those findings on gases and liquids on Mars. So, it should be no surprise that Thales Alenia Space today is focusing on the Martian surface itself. It is developing the robotic mini-lab that will tackle the challenge of digging the deepest ever into the planet’s subsoil to find signs of bacteria or any other form of life past or present.
First, it was in the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), launched in 2016 and built by Thales Alenia Space, that contributed to finding Martian atmospheric methane.
And only one year ago, on July 25, 2018, there was the major discovery of liquid water under Mars’ South Pole. It was made possible by MARSIS, the first radar sounder ever to orbit another planet, and developed by the company. It was embarked on the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars Express, a fifteen-year-old satellite in Mars orbit that continues to make discoveries about the planet’s 4.6-billion-year history.
The radar investigation of the sub-surface of Mars shows that the south polar region of the planet is made up of many layers of ice and dust down to a depth of about 1.5 kilometers.
Overall prime contractor for both 2016 and 2020 ExoMars missions, Thales Alenia Space is now the industrial coordinator of the next and most exciting stage of exploring for life on Mars—the sub-surface probe for any signs of bacterial life. That is ExoMars 2020 that will send a surface rover to explore that planet as soon as it lands on 2021. For the first-time ever, samples will be taken from as deep as two meters on the Martian surface, analysed on the spot, and results will be communicated back to Earth, more precisely to the ROCC - Rover Operational Control Center, thanks to the TGO. The search for bacteria on Mars will be launched.
The analysis on board the rover will be the task of a sophisticated mini-lab designed with a number of partners. Nine instruments will check out the samples from deepest-ever subsurface probe to find in their chemical and geological composition any traces of bacteria or any other form of life.
“We need to preserve our beautiful planet and life on it. What we learn in the next decades about human travel to Mars will help us better manage resources on Earth" Walter Cugno, Thales Alenia Space Vice President for Space and Exploration.
Walter Cugno is convinced that the project is also crucial for life on Earth. He says, “We need to preserve our beautiful planet and life on it. What we learn in the next decades about human travel to Mars will help us better manage resources on Earth and determine if we can colonize our neighboring planet for the good of all humanity.”
He concludes, “We will learn how to utilize fewer resources and still survive with little water, little sun, regeneration of air, and avoidance of pollution. And, finally, we will put our planet Earth in the perspective of the Universe and its big mysteries. That will be a huge lesson that will change the way we live and treat our planet itself.”
--ExoMars is a joint exploration program between the European Space Agency and the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, and that aims to study the Martian environment, atmosphere, and soil. It will lead to a significant data harvest that will nourish scientists’ research for many years to come. Thales Alenia Space is prime contractor on the ExoMars missions (2016 and 2020), leading an industrial consortium. Within the consortium, Leonardo will provide the soil sample drill, OHB the carrier module and various rover instruments, and the rover itself will be supplied by Airbus Defence & Space. NPO Lavochkin will build the landing platform.