The European Mars rover may not be launched this year

Close up of the cover of one of the ExoMars2020 rover's parachutes. Source: NASA / JPL-Caltech

There is growing uncertainty about preparations for the launch of the European mission ExoMars, which according to plans in July should start towards the Red Planet. Reason: delay of key parachute tests.
According to the latest information from the ExoMars mission, there is a threat of a decision to delay take-off until 2022. Moreover, such a decision may be announced before the key parachute tests scheduled for late March. The heads of the European Space Agency and the Russian agency Roskosmos, the two main partners responsible for preparing the mission, are due to meet on March 12 to discuss the current status of the mission.

The two large parachutes that are expected to safely deliver the ExoMars rover to the surface of Mars have repeatedly failed the tests in 2019, tearing apart when entering the atmosphere during the simulation of the rover's landing.

ExoMars 2020, which is scheduled to start in July this year, is the second element of the joint European-Russian program ExoMars, which began with the sending of the Trace Gas Orbiter probe and the Schiaparelli lander in 2016.

Delaying the mission would mean that the Rosalind Franklin rover would have to wait 2.5 years for the next launch window. Martian missions are carried out only when Earth and Mars are relatively close together, and this arrangement occurs every 26 months.

When deciding whether to delay the mission, representatives of both space agencies will have to consider what happened when they tried to land on the surface of Mars the previous time. On October 19, 2016, the Schiaparelli lander crashed into the surface of Mars as a result of a software failure that led to premature release of the parachute from the lander.

In that case, Schiaparelli's mission was to check that both agencies had developed well the technology of entering the atmosphere and landing on the surface of Mars. Now, as part of the second stage of the mission, you need to send the main load, i.e. the Rosalind Franklin rover, so the rate is much higher.

Meanwhile, implemented in May and August last year. tests of a 15-meter supersonic parachute and a 35-meter subsonic parachute ended in tearing the parachute canopy. Asked for help from NASA specialists, who had delivered the rover safely to Mars four times, found that the rupture occurred when the parachute was released from the cover.

The European Space Agency has announced that further parachute tests are scheduled for the end of March this year, just three months before the opening of the monthly start window. The tests were originally scheduled for December 2019 and February 2020, but recently these dates have been postponed.

The European Mars rover may not be launched this year


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