Where should the European Mars rover land?

Where should the European Mars rover land?
An artist’s conception of the European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover, scheduled to launch in 2018. Credit: ESA

Picking a landing site on Mars is a complex process. There's the need to balance scientific return with the capabilities of whatever vehicle you're sending out there. And given each mission costs millions (sometimes billions) of dollars—and you only get one shot at landing—you can bet mission planners are extra-cautious about choosing the right location.

A recent paper in Eos details just how difficult it is to choose where to put down a rover, with reference to the upcoming European ExoMars mission that will launch in 2018.

In March, scientists came together to select the first candidate landing sites and came up with four finalist locations. The goal of ExoMars is to look for evidence of life (whether past or present) and one of its defining features is a 2-meter (6.6-foot) drill that will be able to bore below the surface, something that the NASA Curiosity rover does not possess.

"Among the highest-priority sites are those with subaqueous sediments or hydrothermal deposits," reads the paper, which was written by Bradley Thomson and Farouk El-Baz (both of Boston University). Of note, El-Baz was heavily involved in selection for the Apollo missions.

"For example," the paper continues, "some of the clearest morphological indicators of past aqueous activity are channel deposits indicative of past fluvial activity or the terminal fan, or delta deposits present within basins."

But no landing site selection is perfect. The scientists note that Curiosity, for all of its successes, seems unlikely to achieve its primary science objectives in its two-year mission because the commissioning phase took a while, and the rover moves relatively slowly.

Where should the European Mars rover land?
Curiosity snaps selfie at Kimberley waypoint with towering Mount Sharp backdrop on April 27, 2014 (Sol 613). Inset shows MAHLI camera image of rovers mini-drill test operation on April 29, 2014 (Sol 615) into “Windjama” rock target at Mount Remarkable butte. MAHLI color photo mosaic assembled from raw images snapped on Sol 613, April 27, 2014. Credit: NASA/JPL/MSSS/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

That said, NASA has argued that the rover achieved its goal of finding past habitable environments already, with discoveries such as extensive evidence of a past potentially life-bearing lake now called Yellowknife Bay.

What could change the area of the landing could be using different types of entry, descent and landing technologies, the authors add. If the parachute opened depending on how far the spacecraft was from the ground—instead of how fast it was going—this could make the landing ellipse smaller.

This could place the "closer to targets of interest that are too rough for a direct landing and reducing necessary traverse distances," the paper says.

Where should the European Mars rover land?
Outcrops in Yellowknife Bay are being exposed by wind driven erosion. These rocks record superimposed ancient lake and stream deposits that offered past environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. This image mosaic from the Mast Camera instrument on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows a series of sedimentary deposits in the Glenelg area of Gale Crater, from a perspective in Yellowknife Bay looking toward west-northwest. The “Cumberland” rock that the rover drilled for a sample of the Sheepbed mudstone deposit (at lower left in this scene) has been exposed at the surface for only about 80 million years. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Explore further

Curiosity roves outside landing ellipse

More information: The complete paper is availabler online: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10 … 002/2014EO350001/pdf
Source: Universe Today
Citation: Where should the European Mars rover land? (2014, September 4) retrieved 22 October 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2014-09-european-mars-rover.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Sep 04, 2014
"But no landing site selection is perfect. The scientists note that Curiosity, for all of its successes, seems unlikely to achieve its primary science objectives in its two-year mission because the commissioning phase took a while, and the rover moves relatively slowly."

-The other rovers operated long past their designed lifetimes and there is no reason to expect that curiosity couldn't do this as well. But it probably won't because it is only halfway to its objective and it's wheels are almost shot.

They recently tried traveling on sand to reduce wear but bogged down, again due to wheel design. Landing closer to the objective and more robust wheels will no doubt be part of future missions.

It's a good thing we aren't sending fleets of these things until we get all such critical issues worked out.

Sep 05, 2014
Gee I'd think the lowest point in the Hellas Basin would be the best choice especially since many landforms in the Basin seem to be a result of rubble covered ice glacial flows.

Additionally the lowest point is the only place on Mars where the air pressure is high enough for liquid water to exist for any length of time provided the temperature gets above freezing.

That being the case, you can be sure that it will not be on the list of choices as it is also the likeliest place to find life, and current programs purposely avoid landings at such places so as to avoid Earthly contamination.

Oh the irony restricting potential missions to find proof of life on mars to locations where life is least likely to be found in order to avoid contamination from Earth while they claim to be doing their best to find it.

The other site certain not to appear on the list for the same reason the fields of probable mud volcanoes located at what was once the bottom of the Martian northern ocean.

Sep 05, 2014

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more