The European Space Agency’s ExoMars mission is on track to launch in September, after missing its intended launch window in the year 2020 as a result of pandemic. The mission, that is going to land a rover dubbed Rosalind Franklin on Mars’ surface, is on track for deployment between September 20 and October 1 on the Proton rocket from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome. Roscosmos has contributed to the rover and the Kazachok surface platform, which is going to land in the Oxia Planum region of Mars in 2023 June.
ExoMars was supposed to launch around the middle of 2020. However, issues with the spacecraft’s parachutes, which will slow it down in the Martian atmosphere, as well as obstacles created by the outbreak of the epidemic, forced ESA to postpone the launch until March 2020.
After some help from NASA, ESA currently believes it has addressed the issue with the parachutes. ESA successfully deployed two distinct versions of the larger of the lander’s two parachutes, 35 meters in diameter, in high-altitude trials of parachutes in Oregon in December.
The rover itself has passed all of its testings, with only “minimal tuning” remaining, according to ESA. “With the latest drop test accomplishment for the parachutes, we are confident that we will be ready in time for the September deployment date,” Pietro Baglioni, team leader of ESA ExoMars rover, said in a statement.
ExoMars was also praised by Josef Aschbacher, the ESA Director General at a press briefing the same day. He said, “It’s going pretty nicely.” “With a small positive release schedule margin, we’re on track.”
Officials said that part of the preparations comprised of repairing electronics on the spacecraft’s descent module. “It handles the main braking engine for the ultimate landing on the surface of Mars,” said David Parker, ESA’s director in charge of the human and robotic space exploration. “It’s one of the aspects that caused the launch delay back in 2020,” he added. He said that the electronics are being tested as well as software updates.
Rising geopolitical tensions between the West and Russia, fueled by fears that Russia is ready to invade Ukraine, might disrupt launch plans. Aschbacher expressed hope that the incidents would have no impact on Russia’s space cooperation, including the ExoMars mission. “Whatever occurs politically on the ground is going to have no bearing on the launch plans,” he stated.
Selection of astronauts
The recruitment of a new category of astronauts is another important ESA endeavor for 2022. The agency said on January 18 that it had finished the first part of the selection process, which included analyzing 23,307 applications. Following the examination, the candidate pool was limited to 1,362 people, who are now going to be subjected to a battery of medical and psychological exams.
These examinations, which will begin in February, will restrict the pool to roughly 400 persons, according to Aschbacher. Further tests will provide a “few tens” of finalists, which he plans to interview personally before the agency chooses 4 to 6 astronauts by the close of the year.
Ariane 6’s unpredictability
The Vega C and the Ariane 6 is two new launch vehicles set to debut this year. While the Vega C is expected to release in May, Aschbacher is more pessimistic about the possibility of an Ariane 6 deployment this year.
“At this time, I’m not in a place to give you a precise maiden flight launch date,” he said, citing two forthcoming sets of trials: hot-fire trials of the upper stage at an institution in Lampoldshausen, Germany, beginning in February, and combined tests of the rocket’s core and upper stages at the spaceport situated in Kourou, French Guiana. This week, those two stages landed in Kourou.