Thursday, December 19, 2013

Call for ExoMars 2018 Landing Site Selection

ESA's ExoMars Rover. Credit: ESA

The European Space Agency (ESA) and the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IKI) [on behalf of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos)] invite the scientific community to propose candidate landing sites for the ExoMars 2018 mission. The ExoMars Landing Site Selection Working Group (LSSWG) will support ESA and Roscosmos in evaluating the proposals received, consulting with the wider scientific community, and identifying candidate site(s) for more detailed studies. The LSSWG will then formulate a recommendation to ESA and Roscosmos for the mission's landing site(s).

The ExoMars Programme’s scientific objectives are:

-To search for signs of past and present life on Mars;
-To investigate the water/geochemical environment as a function of depth in the shallow subsurface;
-To study martian atmospheric trace gases and their sources;
-To characterise the surface environment.

The 2018 mission includes two science elements: a Rover and a Surface Platform. The ExoMars Rover will carry a comprehensive suite of instruments dedicated to geology and exobiology research named after Louis Pasteur. The Rover will be able to travel several kilometres searching for traces of past and present signs of life. It will do this by collecting and analysing samples from outcrops, and from the subsurface—down to 2-m depth. The very powerful combination of mobility with the ability to access locations where organic molecules can be well preserved is unique to this mission. After the Rover will have egressed, the ExoMars Surface Platform will begin its science mission to study the surface environment at the landing location.

From a science point of view, a landing site satisfying the Rover mission’s search-for-life requirements is expected to be also interesting for the Surface Platform.

For the ExoMars Rover to achieve results regarding the possible existence of signs of life, the mission has to land in a scientifically appropriate setting:

-The site must be ancient (older than 3.6 Ga)—from Mars’ early, habitable period: Pre- to late-Noachian (Phyllosian), possibly extending into the Hesperian;
-The site must show abundant morphological and mineralogical evidence for long-duration, or frequently reoccurring, aqueous activity;
-The site must include numerous sedimentary rock outcrops;
-The outcrops must be distributed over the landing ellipse to ensure that the rover can get to some of them (typical rover traverse range is a few km);
-The site must have little dust coverage.

The response to this Call will be in the form of a Landing Site Proposal, not longer than six pages (A4 format, 11-pt character size), which must be compiled using the ExoMars 2018 Landing Site Proposal Guide & Template, following the instructions included therein.

The proposals, in PDF format (file size limit 35 MB), shall be submitted to the following e-mail address: exomars_landing@rssd.esa.int, and must be received within Friday, 28 February 2014 (12:00 CET—noon).

Example of an ExoMars (104 km x 19 km) landing ellipse pattern. For a 2018 launch (in yellow), the orientation of the landing ellipse can vary between 90° and 102° azimuth (computed clockwise from the North direction). For a 2020 launch (in light-blue), the landing ellipse azimuth can span the 88°–127° range, depending on the launch date within the 2020 launch window opportunity. The ellipse pattern is centred at 18.36° N, 77.59° E, at an elevation of –2.66 km with respect to the MOLA geoid in planetocentric coordinates. The footprints of existing HiRISE, CRISM (in purple), and MOC (orange) images are shown. In green are depicted new, requests for a HiRISE image (rectangle) and a CRISM image (hourglass shape) centred at 18.365° N, 77.719° E. Credit: ESA
Example of an ExoMars (104 km x 19 km) landing ellipse pattern. For a 2018 launch (in yellow), the orientation of the landing ellipse can vary between 90° and 102° azimuth (computed clockwise from the North direction). For a 2020 launch (in light-blue), the landing ellipse azimuth can span the 88°–127° range, depending on the launch date within the 2020 launch window opportunity. The ellipse pattern is centred at 18.36° N, 77.59° E, at an elevation of –2.66 km with respect to the MOLA geoid in planetocentric coordinates. The footprints of existing HiRISE, CRISM (in purple), and MOC (orange) images are shown. In green are depicted new, requests for a HiRISE image (rectangle) and a CRISM image (hourglass shape) centred at 18.365° N, 77.719° E. Credit: ESA

The LSSWG will analyse the proposals received in response to the call to assess their compliance with science, engineering, and planetary protection requirements. Sites deemed to be non-compliant will be rejected and proposers informed accordingly.

Next, the LSSWG will support ESA and Roscosmos to organise a first open scientific workshop, to take place at ESTEC on 26–28 March 2014, to discuss each of the landing site proposals considered viable. The LSSWG will present the information compiled on all proposals: Sites will have received a preliminary classification in terms of science and safety interest. Proposers will be invited to present their candidate site, which will be discussed by all participants. The result of the workshop will form the basis for prioritising and narrowing down the list of candidate landing sites.

Following the workshop, the LSSWG will take into account the information presented at the workshop, plus the outcome of discussions for the various proposed sites, and the interest of participants as expressed during the workshop to produce a ranked list of candidate landing sites. No more than four sites will be shortlisted for further detailed evaluation. All of the shortlisted sites must be scientifically compelling and safe for landing (based on the available information). The LSSWG will aim to make this recommendation in time for the mission’s System Preliminary Design Review (S-PDR) closeout, planned for June 2014.

Following their first recommendation, the LSSWG, with further support by Project Team, and Industry, will perform a very accurate assessment of the sites’ landing safety. Likewise, the proposers and the LSSWG will continue to study the sites’ science interest. Please note that the LSSWG, ESA, and IKI/Roscosmos will keep open the possibility to replace an already shortlisted site until 30 January 2015—in case one site were to prove unfeasible or if compelling new information were to make a new site particularly interesting. However, the preferred course of action would be not to have to exercise this possibility.

Other landing site workshops will follow, typically once a year. A desirable goal would be to complete the certification of a suitable (science, engineering, and planetary protection) landing site by the mission’s Critical Design Review (CDR), presently planned for September 2016.

The final landing site(s) recommendation for the 2018 mission will be produced by the LSSWG prior to the mission’s Flight Acceptance Review (FAR), presently planned for October 2017. This recommendation will be delivered to ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration and the appropriate Russian authorities. Roscosmos and ESA will then follow the applicable approval procedure with their Governing Bodies.

Credit: ESA

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