The ExoMars 2020 Mission: A Promising Future

Join us as we explore the ExoMars 2020 mission and its quest to uncover the truth about Mars’ past and the possibility of life.

Video of the day December 18th 2019

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There are many missions to go to Mars right now, and one of them is to look for life. Join us as we explore the ExoMars project and what its intentions are.

What is the ExoMars 2020 Mission?

At present, humanity has a lot of stock in Mars as a potential home for humanity, but even with the many, MANY missions that are in the works to get humanity to Mars, there are still some who wish to learn more about Mars as a whole. Mainly in regards to its history, and what it was like before it became a desolate red planet. Over the course of our history exploring space, we have dedicated all sorts of resources (such as satellites, telescopes, probes and even rovers that were sent to Mars) to try and learn more about Mars. The ExoMars 2020 mission though is aimed to definitively answer one question: Did Mars ever have life on it?

ExoMars is a European Space Agency programme executed in cooperation with the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos with contributions from NASA, and their plan actually started back in 2016. As they launched a special probe and rover combination to the planet with two goals. The probe was  “Trace Gas Orbiter“, and its intention was to go and circle the planet numerous times in order to find out more about Mars’ thin atmosphere, and what trace gasses might still be there that humanity could use.

But, the lander that they were going to use to roam Mars got destroyed when it crash landed into the planet and subsequently exploded. The events of that crash were studied by the teams, and now a new rover is being made to both finish the mission, and try and determine whether life ever existed on Mars.

It’ll do so by drilling deep into the surface of the planet. But not just one part of the planet, many parts. In previous attempts, the rovers that were sent to Mars were only outfitted for one thing. To drill in a particular area, or, to roam around the planet collecting things. This new rover will do both, and thus give the teams the various amounts of data they need to determine if life on Mars ever truly existed.

Where Are They Aiming To Land?

In such a mission, picking the right place is vital in order to maximize the potential for finding traces of life…so…where does one look on a massive planet? I mean, think about it, unlike Earth, there aren’t a lot of areas that scream, “Hey! I’ve got life right here!” Any traces are very likely buried deep within the crust of the red planet, if there’s any at all. And while Mars is smaller than Earth, it doesn’t have any oceans or other obstructions to lessen the field of view, thus there’s actually MORE to explore.

The teams because the 2020 mission knew this, and so they actually spent YEARS surveying the planet and trying to determine where they were going to go. Eventually, they settled on a place called Oxia Planum.

So why focus on this spot? That would have to do with the fact that it’s a flattened area that is near the equator of the planet. What’s more, it’s at an elevation that was determined to be “below sea level”. You see, we know that there was water on Mars at one time, but shifts in the atmosphere made it so that the water got evaporated and pulled into space. But, that could still mean that somewhere in the planet are traces of things that were leftover from when they were still there.

Which is another reason it’s selected: the clay deposits. If you look up recent findings from Mars, you’ll notice that there has been a focus on finding special deposits of clay, and what it could mean for the history of Mars (as you need water to make clay…). The Oxia Planum area has some of the richest clay deposits on the planet, which means it could hold something if examined with the probe.

Finally, erosion has led to parts of the area being opened up for the first time ever, and thus there is new lands to explore within the planet.

And as noted earlier, the rover will be able to roam around for several miles to try and get samples from other areas should something from Oxia Planum not pan out.

How Will They Land Safely This Time?

If you recall, the first part of the ExoMars mission was only partially a success because the original rover crash landed on the planet. Given that it’s taking them five years (as the project will launch in 2020 but land in 2021) to get back to Mars, you can bet that they have a new plan to ensure that this kind of crash-landing doesn’t happen again.

Not that they’re not nervous about it, as they noted that the uncertain atmospheric conditions of Mars could make any planned landing hard to do. But, they do have a plan to try and avoid that, and it’s actually kind of simple in regards to how to do it. They’re going to use parachutes to get the rover and lander down to the planet.

Confused? I’ll explain.

Once the atmospheric drag (meaning once the lander has entered the atmosphere after being deployed from the Russian rocket that took it to Mars) has slowed the descent module from around 21 000 km/h to 1700 km/h, the first parachute will be deployed. Some 20 seconds later, at about 400 km/h, the second parachute will open. Following separation of the parachutes about 1 km above ground the braking engines will kick in to safely deliver a landing platform – with a rover encapsulated inside – onto the surface of Mars for its scientific mission. The entire sequence from atmospheric entry to landing takes just six minutes.

I know that may sound complicated, but it’s actually pretty simple. Basically, it’ll enter the atmosphere, and at a certain point, the first parachute will startup, and it’ll slow the lander down to a certain level. Then, it’ll go and launch the second parachute once closer to the ground. And (hopefully) land the probe safely.

It’s a remarkably simple solution, and tests are saying it could work…but…

…before we get to the “but…”, be sure to like the video and subscribe to the channel! That way you don’t miss our weekly videos.

Problems With The Parachutes

Obviously, the teams behind the ExoMars mission didn’t just say, “Hey! Let’s put parachutes on the craft and see if that’ll work!”. They did rigorous testing to see if even the concept of these parachutes would work, and over time, and many tests, they did determine that this could work. Which is where they got the concept for the multi-stage parachute program. They’re still doing tests on them to make sure that they are prepared for any eventuality. Which is good…because recent tests have shown that some of the parachutes are getting ripped up in the descent. And that’s just on Earth!

What’s worse, the damage was to both parachutes, not just one of them. So that raises some interesting questions, especially since this is many versions into the project. Meaning that they were already outfitting them with improvements and such to try and prevent the tearing, yet it’s still happening.

Which might have you thinking, “Then why are they going to use this kind of landing system if it’s still tearing?” Well first, they still believe they can fix the issue, and not all the flights have ended up with torn parachutes, that’s important to note. Also, in this regard, it’s the more simple solution, and one that can be better handled long distance. After all, the first rover from 2016 had a more “modern” solution to landing on Mars…and it got exploded as a result.

For a parachute system, the only things you need to worry about are deployment, release from one stage to the next, and then making sure the cloth of the parachute doesn’t rip. Thrusters, rockets, and mechanical solutions have numerous other issues that have to be dealt with in order to make it work.

So while there are issues right now, that doesn’t mean that they’ll be there when the launch comes. It just means they need to keep testing until it’s perfect.

mars rover

What Are The Odds Of Them Really Finding Proof Of Life On Mars?

I know that may sound like an odd question to ask, but it is a fair one I assure you. Because the whole basis of this mission is that there is a HOPE that there is proof of life on Mars. Something that we can honestly say we haven’t found proof of outside of various basic things like potential microbes and water on the planet and stuff like that. So you would be fair for asking if there is any chance that they’ll find anything at all.

That being said, the team behind the ExoMars mission are trying to give themselves the best possible chance for success, and as such, the rover that they have made will be able to drill 6 feet into the ground of Mars and get samples for them to examine. That’s MUCH deeper than any drill that they have put on Mars via previous rovers. And as something like Earth would tell you, if you go down that far, you usually find something, even if it’s not what you’re looking for.

But what are the odds? It’s honestly hard to say, and not for the reasons you’re thinking. Because if you look at Mars in a picture or on a TV screen with people talking about it, it looks dead. Like REALLY dead. It’s a barren planet, and it’s been that way AT LEAST for a very long time. So not unlike a desert, it’s very possible that IF there was life on the planet, it would be gone now, even the remains would likely be gone.

Then again, we also looked at Mars once and said, “there’s no way there’s water on it.” And yet, we did find water on Mars, and now we’re using that as a motivation for getting us on Mars so that we can colonize it. Even planning the place we land on the planet so that we can maximize the water that is there.

So if we were wrong about something that basic…we could be wrong about life on Mars.

What Would Change If There Was Life On Mars?

This is another fair question, one that deserves serious thought. What if we do find traces of life on Mars? Even if it’s the smallest things like bacteria, or other microscopic life? Would that really change anything? Yes! Yes it would!

Think about it, there are many people who believe in life outside of Earth, the problem is that there has been literally no proof of it outside of guesses as to WHY we haven’t met aliens…and UFO sightings. Not exactly compounding in any form, you know?

BUT, IF we were able to definitively find life on Mars, even in the smallest of ways, that would change everything that we know about the universe. True, it wouldn’t prove life on other planets outside of Earth and Mars, and it wouldn’t prove that other intelligent species live in the universe…but it would prove it would be possible.

Plus, think of how this would impact the upcoming Mars colonization missions. It was already noted that various scientists and other specialists would be the first to go to Mars to determine certain things about large-scale expansion. But now, they could not just do that, but do ON-SITE research for what the rover found, and see if there are other traces of life on Mars.

It may not seem it right now, but this could change how we would view not just our solar system, but the universe as a whole.

What Would Change If We DON’T Find Life On Mars?

Well, if we’re going to look at the positive side of things, let’s also look at the negative side of things. Mainly, what would happen if we DON’T find life on Mars? Granted, it’s impossible for the ExoMars rover to search every inch of the planet and see whether life exists. But, given its range, and the places it’s going to, if it doesn’t find life there, it’s very possible that Mars doesn’t have life on it at all.

Should that determination be made, it would change things, as that would confirm various theories about Mars and its history, and make it just like various other planets out in the universe in regards to the potential for life…but not the actual realization of life. There are many planets that could have life, but don’t for one reason or another, and that’s why many are wondering if we really are alone in the universe.

On the plus side, that would mean that any funding for projects to discover life on Mars would likely go towards other projects, including the colonization of Mars.

Mars, What Is It Hiding?

The reason for all of these missions to Mars, from the colonization, the research of its atmosphere, to the attempt to find life on it may seem strange to some. But in truth, it’s just that we’re curious how it ended up like it did, and what it had before it was a red planet. We know about planets like Venus and how they turned into inhabitable places, but Mars is still a bit of a mystery.

Again, we thought for SURE that it had no water, but then we found it. And who knows? Maybe the ExoMars mission will find life of some kind and shatter our perceptions of it once again. We don’t know. But, that’s why we try, because if Mars is hiding something that can change our perceptions of it, then we’re going to try and find it. We’re stubborn and curious like that.

Thanks for watching everyone! What do you think about the upcoming ExoMars mission? Do you think that they’ll find life on Mars? Or, do you think it’ll prove that it was always a lifeless planet? Let me know in the comments below, be sure to subscribe, and I’ll see you next time on the channel!

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