When it comes to landing a robot on another planet, perhaps the most important question is where to show it. Researchers for the upcoming ExoMars mission, consisting of a rover and landing, have now announced their preferred location on the Red Planet.
After a multi-year debate, scientists selected Oxia Planum as an optimum site, according to a forecast meeting at the National Space Center in Leicester, UK. Although subject to further review, this location could be the best point to determine whether life ever existed on Mars.
"We can fulfill mission objectives there and traffic is very good – the rover will be able to drive," Gizmodo, the lead researcher at the surface platform platform Lander radio-known experiment from the Royal Observatory of Belgium, said.
ExoMars 2020 is the next part of the ExoMars mission: a rover and landing platform that will be sent to Mars as part of a joint mission between the European Space Agency and the Russian Roscosmos. The Rover and the platform are instruments for measuring the dirt and the atmosphere of the planet and separated just before landing. The main objective of the mission is to find evidence of organic molecules deep into the Martian dirt and possibly biosignature, the chemical signs of life.
Given that Mars has about as much land as Earth over water, site selection is a lengthy process, according to the ESA data sheet. Such a location must be interesting scientifically, with signs of a wet past. It must also be in a low-lying area in order to maximize the available atmosphere to slow down the falling cargo with its rockets and parachutes. And it must be straight enough to land safely and to navigate the rover.
Oxia Planum lies to the north of the Mars Equator. Channels that cut through their clay are signs of past waterways and a potential reservoir of organic molecules.
The selection follows the five-year process, which started with the organized working group, and then with a call for nominations. The team reduced its chances at two locations, Oxia Planum and Mawrth Vallis in the north. While both were interesting and Mawrth Vallis had a slightly diverse geology, Oxia Planum won it as it was a more floating site at a lower altitude.
Mission scientists can not accurately determine the exact location for landing, but create an ellipso that serves as a destination for landing components. The Elipse is relatively free of obstacles, reserve one crater in its corner, and is about the size of Rhode Island. The options for landing in one crater are relatively thin, Dehant said.
Even more so for successful landings than just choosing a good place, of course – the descent must go according to plan. In 2016, the ExoMars Schiaparell landing crash crashed due to an error in its computer.
Collect the landing site to determine what kind of science a rover could expect. Oxia Planum does not differ much from Gale Crater, the supposedly ancient floating, which is currently the home of NASA's Curiosity rover, according to the kind of scientific discoveries it offers, Dehant explained to Gizmod. However, she hopes that Oxia Planum will be a fruitful place for finding biosignature.
Testing the rover will not only look at dirt, but will also provide instruments for studying the climate and the atmosphere of the planet. After all, the latest results from curiosity do not find organic molecules on the planet, but also a strange seasonal change in atmospheric methane.
Scientists who are interested in the atmosphere in Mars may be less demanding where the mission is located. They only need to try to get into the work order.
"As long as it's safe," said Gizmodo Francesca Ferri, chief investigator of the Atmospheric experiment and the analysis of the atmospheric Mars experiment as part of ExoMars 2016. "This is the most important thing."[ESA]