Rosalind Franklin Mars rover is a step closer to blast-off after ‘bakeout’ test

The British-built Rosalind Franklin mars rover is a step closer to blast off, after the vehicle spent 120 hours inside a 95 degree Fahrenheit clean room ‘oven’.

The rover, named after the British chemist, Rosalind Franklin, whose work was central to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA, has to be cleared of any organic molecules from Earth, before it can land on the Red Planet next year.

The rover sat inside a vacuum chamber for five days at the Thales Alenia Space facility in Rome, Italy, where it experienced 95F (35C) temperatures.

This was hot enough to remove hidden contaminants from some of the rover’s internal parts, such as small bits of glue, and reduce the risk of Earth contaminants reaching Mars.

It was originally scheduled to launch for Mars last summer, but Covid restrictions delayed tests required for it to launch — so it was postponed to September 2022.

The rover, named after the British chemist, Rosalind Franklin, whose work was central to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA, has to be cleared of any organic molecules from Earth, before it can land on the Red Planet next year

The British-built Rosalind Franklin mars rover is a step closer to blast off, after the vehicle spent 120 hours inside a 95 degree Fahrenheit clean room 'oven'

The British-built Rosalind Franklin mars rover is a step closer to blast off, after the vehicle spent 120 hours inside a 95 degree Fahrenheit clean room ‘oven’

EXOMARS: ROSALIND FRANKLIN ROVER

The ExoMars rover was renamed Rosalind Franklin, after the British chemist famed for her work on DNA.

It will search for signs of alien life on the Red Planet, landing using giant parachutes to slow its decent.

It is a joint ESA and Roscosmos project, but built in the UK by Airbus.

The rover will be launched by Roscosmos on a Proton rocket from Baikonur chromosome on September 20, 2022 — arriving in June 2023.

It is destined for the Oxia Planum on Mars, a clay-brearing plain with relatively smooth topography and an abundance of ‘hydrated minerals.’

Its drill will allow it to dig down up to six and a half feet into the Martian soil.

It will grab samples of buried rock and ‘bake it’ in an oven after crushing it.

This will allow the rovers laboratory to look for evidence of past life-signs in soil that dates back billions of years.

This was a time when Mars is thought to have had similar conditions to those found on the young Earth.

Facts and Figures

Wheels: Six

Mass: 660lb

Drill: 6ft 7 in

Goal: Search for biomolecules or biosignatures from past life

Target: Oxia Planum

Duration: At least 7 months

Speed: 230ft per day

Cameras: Two stereo camera pairs (NavCam and LocCam), used to create a 3D map of the terrain for use during autonomous navigation

Like the NASA Perseverance rover, which launched last summer, Rosalind Franklin will search Mars for signs of ancient life.

The rover will launch in September, arriving on Mars in 2023, giving engineers more time to ensure everything is working as expected, including the parachutes that will help it land on the surface of another world.

Part of the preparation includes a ‘bakeout’ process — effectively cooking the rover in a giant furnace.

This was vital in the life-searching goal, as any contamination from Earth could lead to false-positive results.

The next big test will be of the Mars Organics Molecule Analyser (MOMA), one of the instruments inside the rover’s analytical laboratory ultra-clean zone that will be used to determine if signs of life are present in the Martian soil.

It will determine the chemical background in the rover’s laboratory by performing a measurement using an empty oven.

Once on Mars, MOMA’s tiny ovens will host crushed soil samples that will be heated to allow the resulting vapour and gases to be analysed with gas chromatography techniques to sniff out traces of organic compounds.

The ‘sniff’ of the empty oven following the Earth-based bakeout will establish the background footprint against which measurements on Mars can be compared.

The rover is equipped with a unique drill that will bore down to six and a half feet (2m) below the Martian surface and return samples for analysis.

The drill tool also hosts a miniaturised spectrometer (Ma_MISS) to analyse the inner surface of the borehole, and a close-up imager (CLUPI) that will look at the drill fines and core sample before it enters the rover’s laboratory.

Different instruments will work together to analyse the samples inside the rover.

In addition to MOMA, the MicrOmega instrument will use visible and infrared light to characterise minerals in the samples, and a Raman spectrometer will use a laser to identify mineralogical composition.

Using its panoramic and high resolution cameras and ground-penetrating radar, the rover will seek out the most promising locations to drill, and to better understand the geological context of the Oxia Planum region that it will explore.

The rover sat inside a vacuum chamber for five days at the Thales Alenia Space facility in Rome, Italy, where it experienced 95F (35C) temperatures

The rover sat inside a vacuum chamber for five days at the Thales Alenia Space facility in Rome, Italy, where it experienced 95F (35C) temperatures

Following completion of the bakeout, the thermo-vacuum chamber was re-pressurised and opened, and the rover prepared for its return journey to Thales Alenia Space in Turin.

There, readiness for launch will continue until it ships to the launch site next year.

ESA has a ‘twin’ of the rover that was baked in an oven — it is used to test the drill and other equipment and see how it responds under Earth-like conditions.

This then gives the engineers at ESA an idea of what to expect when the real Rosalind Franklin rover arrives on the Red Planet and begins working.

Earlier this year the twin rover on Earth drilled down and extracted samples more than five foot into the ground — deeper than any other Martian rover has attempted.

Part of the preparation includes a 'bakeout' process - effectively cooking the rover in a giant furnace

Part of the preparation includes a ‘bakeout’ process – effectively cooking the rover in a giant furnace

Following completion of the bakeout, the thermo-vacuum chamber was re-pressurised and opened, and the rover prepared for its return journey to Thales Alenia Space in Turin

Following completion of the bakeout, the thermo-vacuum chamber was re-pressurised and opened, and the rover prepared for its return journey to Thales Alenia Space in Turin

OXIA PLANUM: ROSALIND FRANKLIN LANDING SITE

The Oxia Planum is a 124 mile wide clay-bearing region of the Red Planet.

The plain lies between the Mawrth Vallis outflow channel to the north-east and the Ares Vallis outflow channel to the south-west.

It was selected from eight potential sites as a landing spot for the ESA and Roscosmos ExoMars mission.

The Rosalind Franklin rover will touch down after a heart stopping parachute decent to the relatively flat topology.

It met the rover landing criteria based on its latitude, elevation, surface slopes, and its terrains.

The area also has a relatively smooth surface and an abundance of hydrated minerals that could contain life signs.

The first samples have been collected as part of a series of tests at the Mars Terrain Simulator at the ALTEC premises in Turin, Italy. The replica, also known as the Ground Test Model, is fully representative of the rover set to land on Mars.

The Rosalind Franklin rover is designed to drill deep enough to get access to well-preserved organic material from four billion years ago, when conditions on the surface of Mars were more like those on infant Earth.

The rover is destined for the Oxia Planum on Mars, a clay-brearing plain with relatively smooth topography and an abundance of ‘hydrated minerals.’

Rosalind Franklin’s twin has been drilling into a well filled with a variety of rocks and soil layers. The first sample was taken from a block of cemented clay of medium hardness, designed to replicate Martian soil.

Drilling took place on a dedicated platform tilted at seven degrees to simulate the collection of a sample in a non-vertical position. The drill acquired the sample in the shape of a pellet of about a third of an inch in diameter.

Once captured, the drill brings the sample to the surface and delivers it to the laboratory inside the rover.

With the drill completely retracted, the rock is dropped into a drawer at the front of the rover, which then withdraws and deposits the sample into a crushing station.

The rover is equipped with a unique drill that will bore down to six and a half feet (2m) below the martian surface and return samples for analysis

The rover is equipped with a unique drill that will bore down to six and a half feet (2m) below the martian surface and return samples for analysis

The ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars mission, with the Rosalind Franklin rover and Kazachok surface platform contained in a descent module, requires two main parachutes

The ESA-Roscosmos ExoMars mission, with the Rosalind Franklin rover and Kazachok surface platform contained in a descent module, requires two main parachutes

Parachutes, that will help the rover land safely on Mars, were tested earlier this year.

These were among the tests that had to be delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, pushing the rocket launch back more than a year.

The delayed launch allowed the team to spend more time on the tests, and even carry out a wider range of tests than would otherwise have been possible.

The Rosalind Franklin rover is one of the main parts of the ExoMars mission, run by the European Space Agency and Roscosmos, the Russian space agency.

EUROPE AND RUSSIA ARE WORKING TOGETHER ON THE EXOMARS MISSION TO SEARCH FOR SIGNS OF MARTIAN LIFE

The main goal of ExoMars is to find out if life has ever existed on Mars – it will do this through a series of instruments on the surface and in orbit.

This includes an orbiting spacecraft called the Trace Gas ORbiter (TGO) that carries a probe to study trace gasses such as methane around the planet.

Scientists believe methane, a chemical that on Earth is strongly tied to life, could help identify areas where life does or could have once existed.

The second part of the ExoMars mission, delayed to 2022/2023 due to coronavirus, will deliver a rover to Mars’ surface.

The rover is being built in Stevenage, UK and is named after British scientist Rosalind Franklin.

It will be the first with the ability to both move across the planet’s surface and drill into the ground to collect and analyse samples.

The rover will include a technology called the Mars Organic Molecule Analyser (MOMA) that will allow it to analyse samples and send data back to Earth.

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Rosalind Franklin Mars rover is a step closer to blast-off after ‘bakeout’ test