The ExoMars 2022 mission is designed to find traces of past or present life under the Martian soil. Leading this search is the Rosalind Franklin rover, which features the Analytical Laboratory Drawer. The ALD is a sophisticated micro-laboratory capable of processing on-site the samples collected by a drill that penetrates the Martian soil down to a depth of two meters. It can detect organic contaminates which could be considered “living matter”.
To safeguard this quest for traces of “Life on Mars”, the rover has to avoid any external contamination, which means that the rover lab is within an ultraclean zone, free of particles or spores originating in the integration process on Earth.
The entire rover and especially the ALD were of course assembled in an ultraclean environment under strict planetary protection rules. But to make sure that the Rosalind Franklin rover, built by Airbus Defence and Space in UK, was perfectly clean, it was first checked out by Thales Alenia Space in Turin and is now inside the clean rooms of the company site in Rome for the so-called “bake-out” tests.
The rover is currently positioned inside a vacuum chamber and subjected to high heat, up to the maximum temperature it can stand. This type of test ensures that even the smallest and most hidden contaminates will evaporate away.
Throughout the entire test process, the rover’s ultraclean zone will be maintained at a pressure higher than the external environment. Contamination will be measured using quartz micro-balances, capable of detecting contamination down to the nanogram level.
Any potential residual contamination will be deposited on the balances (kept at a temperature of minus 40°). The test will take a month, when contamination emissions will reach a plateau.
In the meanwhile, the rover’s “Earth Twin” (ground test model) has been undergoing tests in the Rover Operational Center at Altec in Turin. Recent tests to drill and collect a sample at a depth of 1.7 meters and store it in the Analytical Laboratory Drawer for further analysis were successful.
Thales Alenia Space’s Turin facility has completed maintenance and calibration operations on the landing platform’s scientific instruments, inside an ultraclean room. The complex process of checking all spacecraft functions continues, managed by an updated version of the software that is continuously adapted to the 2022 mission requirements.
ExoMars 2022 is a European Space Agency program in conjunction with the Russian space agency Roscosmos, and with contributions from NASA.
Thales Alenia Space is in charge of the design, development and verification of the entire system, the development of the Carrier Module navigation and guidance system and EDL/GNC development. It’s also in charge of the Rover system, including the Analytical Laboratory Drawer (ALD), as well as supplying basic parts of the Kazachok descent module, including the radar altimeter. Thales Alenia Space in Italy has formed a technical partnership with Lavochkin of Russia for the development of the descent module. OHB is in charge of developing the carrier module (CM), as well as supplying some ALD subsystems (SPDS mechanisms, structure and harness). The rover itself is provided by Airbus Defence and Space in the UK. Leonardo is developing the ExoMars drill, plus the drill and ALD mechanisms control unit and software. Altec (Aerospace Logistics Technology Engineering), a joint company between Thales Alenia Space in Italy (63.75%) and the Italian space agency ASI (36.25%), is responsible for the design, development and maintenance of the Rover Operation Control Center (ROCC) and for controlling the rover on the Martian surface
The Thales Alenia Space-built Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), from the first ExoMars mission, is already in orbit around Mars. In addition to studying trace gases in the Martian atmosphere, whether of biological or geological origin, it will also act as a data relay for communications from the ExoMars 2022 rover and surface science platform, as well as from rovers deployed by partner agencies.