The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency (Roscosmos) continue to work in partnership on the ExoMars mission, which has another launch scheduled for next year. Now, an important step has been taken for the venture: the “twin brother” of the rover Rosalind Franklin, who is undergoing tests on Earth for the mission, has managed to drill deeper into the ground than any other rover has ever done. In addition to the drilling, the vehicle also collected samples.
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The procedure was carried out with a rigid rock, and the soil samples obtained were stored in the laboratory that equips the interior of the rover. “The long-awaited success of drilling the ExoMars drill on Earth is a huge step forward in the exploration of Mars,” commented David Parker, director of human and robotic exploration at ESA. The drilling is even more impressive considering that 7 cm was the maximum depth reached by the instruments of other rovers exploring Mars.
Much of this success is due to the fact that the Rosalind Franklin rover was specially created to drill up to 2 m, to gain access to compounds from approximately 4 billion years ago, period in which conditions on Mars were more similar to those that existed here during our planet’s “infancy”. For this, the rover drill has several mechanisms that work with an autonomous and complex choreography.
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So Pietro Baglioni, team leader of the ExoMars mission rover, explains that the design and construction of the drill was so complex that this first deep drilling is an extraordinary achievement for the team. And, in fact, the collection of deep samples on Mars is one of the main scientific objectives of the mission, which aims to investigate the chemical composition on the planet and, who knows, signs of life in the soil that have not suffered the effects of ionizing radiation. To ensure that everything goes smoothly to achieve these and other goals, ESA is working with a replica of the original rover, called the Ground Test Model (literal translation).
This model is the “twin brother” that represents the real rover that will be sent to Mars, and has already undergone both movement and target identification tests while collecting images and data. Tests showed that the vehicle can follow precise trajectories and study the environment, in addition to analyzing what is under the surface. Meanwhile, the real version of the Rosalind Franklin is undergoing preparations for flying next year — the window for the launch of the ExoMars mission will open on the day 20 of September 20.
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