Controlling robots that search for Mars life

As part of ESA's ambitious, long-term Aurora exploration programme, ExoMars will search for traces of life on Mars. The mission requires entirely new technologies for self-controlled robots, built-in autonomy and cutting-edge visual terrain sensors.

The fourth decade of this century could see Europe participating in a manned mission to Mars in what would be one of humanity's grandest space expeditions ever. Aurora is ESA's programme aimed at the long-term robotic and human exploration of the Solar System, with Mars and the Moon as the main targets.

A human mission to the Red Planet would be a major, multi-year undertaking requiring fantastic, entirely new capabilities such as automated cargo vessels, prepositioned supplies and tools, and communication and navigation satellites in Mars orbit similar to Earth's current GPS systems. Scientists and engineers are already working on ESA's first robotic 'precursor' mission, ExoMars, due for launch around 2011.

ExoMars will explore the biological environment on Mars in preparation for further robotic and, later, human activity. Data from the mission will also provide invaluable input for broader studies of exobiology the search for life on other planets.

The main element of the mission is a wheeled, robotic rover vehicle, similar in concept to NASA's current Mars Rover mission, but having different scientific objectives and improved capabilities.

ExoMars: a wheeled rover delivered in a dramatic direct approach

The mission will likely consist of a carrier spacecraft, a descent module, some sort of landing system, and the surface rover, and the mission profile is likely to include a dramatic direct approach to Mars, with the carrier spacecraft discarded after the rover detaches itself for descent to the surface.

The rover will use solar arrays to generate electricity, and will travel over the rocky orange-red surface of Mars, transportin

Contact: Jocelyne Landeau-Constantin
European Space Agency

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