Coming unstuck –
“This plan will be examined by the two agency heads.”
ESA) / ATG medialab The European. The European and Russian space agencies have announced they will decide the fate of their ExoMars mission at a meeting on March .
The joint mission to deliver a rover and suite of scientific instruments to the surface of the red planet is set for a July on a Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. However, serious questions were raised about the viability of the lander’s complicated parachute systems last year and ongoing problems in testing them.
according to a spokesperson for the European Space Agency (ESA), a “working-level review” for the project was held among ESA and Roscosmos officials in late January, and a preliminary assessment was forwarded to the respective heads of the space agencies, Jan Wörner of ESA and Dmitry Rogozon of Roscosmos, on February 3.
“They instructed the respective inspectors general and program chiefs to submit an updated plan and schedule covering all the remaining activities necessary for an authorization to launch, “the ESA spokesperson said. “This plan will be examined by the two agency heads who will meet on March to jointly agree the next steps. ”
It appears that the European and Russian officials will make a public announcement about ExoMars next month. Their options include pressing ahead with a launch this year or delaying two years until the next favorable window for a launch to Mars opens. Given multiple issues with the mission, a source said a delay is the most likely option.
ExoMars has a two-part system of parachutes to safely bring its the European-built Rosalind Franklin rover and the Russian-led surface platform, Kazachok, to the surface. The first pilot parachute and a – meter main parachute are deployed while the lander is still traveling at supersonic speeds through the thin, upper Martian atmosphere. The second set of pilot and main parachutes, which are larger, are deployed at subsonic speeds.
In May , damage occurred to both main parachute canopies during a high altitude drop test from 90 km. After assessing the problem and making changes to the design of the parachutes and their bags, the agency conducted another high-altitude test on August 5, this time focusing solely on the larger canopy that deploys in the lower atmosphere. This test, too, was not successful .
The mission has yet to complete a successful high-altitude test of its parachute system and was planning to work with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in February to complete such a trial. Despite promising results from ground-based tests, Russian media reports that that high-altitude tests have now been delayed from February to March.
Rover “pit stop”
Meanwhile, Thales Alenia Space has discovered a defect in the hinge system for the rover’s upper-level solar arrays, the BBC Reports . The issue was found in both the rover test model and the actual flight model during the process of thermal vacuum chamber testing. Glue that held the brackets in place came unstuck. Engineers are developing a fix.
It is no easy thing to reach Mars. No space agency other than NASA has ever successfully soft landed and operated spacecraft on Mars for longer than a few seconds. In October 2019, the European Space Agency failed to successfully land its Schiaparelli lander after the spacecraft jettisoned its parachute earlier than expected.
This will be a busy year for Mars launches. NASA’s Mars rover is due to launch in July, and with its HX-1 mission, China plans to launch an orbiter, lander, and rover all in one package. Finally, the United Arab Emirates will attempt to fly its Hope Mars Mission orbiter during the July window. The orbiter will launch from Japan on an H2-A rocket.
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