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Rosalind Franklin Mars rover set for September launch after landing tests

Professional Engineering

The Rosalind Franklin rover will search for signs of life on the surface of Mars (Credit: ESA/ ATG medialab)
The Rosalind Franklin rover will search for signs of life on the surface of Mars (Credit: ESA/ ATG medialab)

The UK-built ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover is set for launch in September after a series of successful tests, including driving off its landing platform.

All of the European Space Agency (ESA) rover’s instruments are ‘go’ for flight, with some minor tuning left to complete this month.

“The Rosalind Franklin rover showcases some of the best of the UK’s space sector and its search for signs of life on Mars will inspire future generations of scientists and engineers,” said Sue Horne, head of space exploration at the UK Space Agency (UKSA).

“It’s very exciting to see this flagship mission pass the latest tests and see the fruition of many years’ hard work as we look forward to the launch later this year.”

The rover was built in Stevenage by Airbus, while the University College London Mullard Space Science Laboratory led on a key instrument known as the PanCam, a high-resolution 3D camera that will inspect the terrain and rocks for signs of life.

The University of Leicester, Teledyne e2v and STFC RAL Space worked on the Raman Spectrometer, which will use laser light to identify particular minerals and organic compounds, and search for life.

Pietro Baglioni, ESA’s ExoMars rover team leader, said: “The rover is ready, and together with the recent drop test success for the parachutes, we are positive to be in time for the September launch date.”

The rover is in an ultra-clean room at the Thales Alenia Space facility in Turin, Italy, along with its Kazachok landing platform. Following a final review in April, all the components of the spacecraft – rover, descent module, landing platform and carrier – will move to the launch site in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, to prepare for lift-off.

Following the nerve-wracking descent to the surface of Mars, a long-awaited moment in the ExoMars mission will be when Rosalind leaves the landing platform and drives onto the martian soil for the first time.

In preparation for that drive, the twin of the Rosalind Franklin rover successfully left its platform during recent tests in a Mars terrain simulator at the Altec premises in Turin.

“The egress is a long and crucial operation. We need to be gentle and run it in a very slow motion for extra safety,” said Andrea Merlo, ExoMars head of robotics from Thales Alenia Space.

The landing platform has two exit ramps, one at the front and another at the back. Rosalind is designed to negotiate steep inclines on the ramps, but it is up to ground control on Earth to decide which is the safest way to drive off.

While the drive down will take about 15 minutes, the rover will be busy for over a week as it unfolds its wheels and deploys the mast, amongst other tasks.

The Earth-based ExoMars twin rover, until now known as the Ground Test Model, has been renamed Amalia after Professor Amalia Ercoli Finzi, a renowned astrophysicist with extensive experience in spaceflight dynamics. Professor Finzi was the first woman to graduate in aeronautical engineering in Italy. She has served as a scientific advisor for ESA and NASA, and designed the drill on Rosetta’s lander Philae.

Engineers are using the Amalia rover to recreate different scenarios and help them take decisions that will keep Rosalind safe in the challenging environment of Mars. The model is fully representative of what the rover will be able to do on the Red Planet.

“The fun has started. We will use Amalia to run risky operations, from driving around martian slopes seeking the best path for science operations, to drilling and analysing rocks,” said Merlo.

The ESA-Roscosmos Trace Gas Orbiter is waiting for the arrival of ExoMars as it travels around Mars. In addition to its own science mission, the orbiter relays data from NASA’s Perseverance rover.

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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