Wednesday, January 30, 2008

ExoMars Update Week > Q'n'A with Jorge Vago - Mission Project Scientist

After yesterday's introduction here we are for ExoMars Update Week’s second day.
And what’s in it?

There has been some lack of information about this particular mission, the latest ExoMars-Pasteur Progress Letter available, the most comprehensive tool to understand what is happening in the European Rover domains, is dated from from October 2006.

Although knowing that this mission, due to its complex nature and development, has some understandable discretion in the releasing of critical information, my curiosity as space exploration follower and as a taxpayer helping to fund such an ambitious mission, spoke louder, therefore I have decided to contact Jorge Vago, ExoMars Project Scientist, who, with appreciated will and promptitude, agreed on unveiling some aspects of the mission that have already passed through decisions and developments.
What you will read next is, I am afraid as our guest is, the result of the possible Q’n’A, the one that time (always the time factor…) permitted.

First of all, the silence around this particular mission as induced to a series of doubts concerning its launch date, that has been presented, officially, as 2013.

That was, obviously, one of the questions on the table.
What had Exomars’ Project Scientist to tell us about this particular issue?

The aim is pointed towards the same launch window, 2013, to be even more specific, December of that same year, around 2130 days and counting…
Although all efforts are being conducted to respect this frame, Jorge Vago presented to spacEurope a backup date that will serve as a scenario if things doesn’t work out within the five years separating us from the predicted mission launch: January 2016 is now announced as the month to target to if, let us hope not, ExoMars will depart towards Mars if an earlier lift-off is not possible.

Lift-off…that takes us to another topic where some doubts exist concerning definitive decisions, what is, now, the most plausible option for the launch of the ExoMars mission?
As clear as he could be, Jorge Vago told spacEurope that the present baseline points to the use of an Ariane 5 ECA launcher, although mission planners still include the Russian Proton M rocket as a backup option.

In earlier occasions it has been indicated that ExoMars might include an orbiter that could serve, at a same time, as a science instrument and, an aspect becoming more and more crucial, as a way of transmitting data acquired by the ground segments back to Earth.
Everything indicates that this will not happen, as the mission’s Project Scientist revealed to spacEurope, the present mission concept does not include the referred Orbiter.
So…how will the work done by both, the Rover and the Lander instruments, be delivered to scientists back on ExoMars’ planet of origin?
For this operations, as Vago states, ExoMars will have to count with a collaboration from the opposite margin of the Atlantic, data relay will be performed by NASA, either using the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) or one of the satellites that the American Agency is planning to launch in 2013 and thereafter.

Now…landing sites…are decisions already being taken concerning this particular aspect of the mission? Yes, but things won’t become definitive soon…
As our guest indicates, the path being followed is similar to the one taken with the MSL which, predicted to launch in the upcoming year has not yet reached a final decision, the European mission is expected to finalise this process until 2012.

Another relevant discussion in the last Pasteur Letter available concerned the viability of including the Geophysics and Environment Package (GEP) in the mission, the answer to this question was already in yesterday’s post but here it is presented in a clearer way, Jorge Vago tells us that yes, the GEP is alive and well, still included in the Lander as part of the mission.

Airbags, a crane, an innovative method…how will ExoMars reach the Red Planet’s ground?
Things weren’t quite understandable in this field.
Jorge Vago takes us along the European mission’s final steps prior to the beginning of its martian life, put your helmet on and enjoy the ride:

The Composite (Carrier + Descent Module) will arrive to Mars in late 2014.

It will go into a parking orbit and wait there approximately 1 year, until the atmospheric conditions are optimal for landing (sufficient atmospheric density and no danger of dust storms).
Then? The Composite will execute a manoeuvre at apogee to retarget the spacecraft for the entrytrajectory. Two days later, the Carrier will separate the Descent Module, which will then enter the atmosphere.

The Carrier will burn up.

The Descent Module will brake using its heatshield, from approximately 25 times the speed of sound to twice the speed of sound.

Thereafter, a first drogue parachute will deploy to reduce the speed to subsonic.

After this, the 25-m diameter main parachute will open. The last stage of the descent is performed with throttable liquid rocket engines which will compensate the horizontal wind component and stop the Descent Module in mid air, about 10 m from the ground.

The Lander will then be dropped and the Descent Module backshell will fly away.

As it falls, the Lander will inflate six vented airbags to cushion the impact with the Martian surface without any bounces. These airbags are, as Vago indicated, a new technology specially designed for this mission.

After landing, the six petals will open, the Rover will deploy its solar panels, and, as our ears, eyes and heart await, ExoMars will contact Earth.

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Tomorrow: Pasteur Instruments

1 comment:

Maxi said...

I hope this mission expand the knoledge of Mars life (if there is...).

Massimo Martini