Rosalind meets Rosalind
The work of Dr Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) is well known for being central to the discovery of the iconic double-helix structure of DNA, the fabric of life as we know it on Earth. More than half a century later, she also inspired the name of ESA’s ExoMars rover, scheduled to launch in 2020 and start its exploration of the Red Planet in 2021. But the lasting imprint Rosalind left on her family also inspired her younger brother to name his own daughter Rosalind.
After learning that the rover had been named in honour of her aunt – the result of a public competition led by the UK Space Agency – and also sharing the same name, Rosalind Franklin reached out to ESA, curious to learn more about the mission. Last month, she visited ESA’s technical centre in the Netherlands and is pictured here meeting the 1:1 scale model of the Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover for the first time.
Rosalind said: “I was overwhelmed to see the rover and to meet the extraordinary scientists that have dedicated years to the development of the project, bringing it from concept to reality, and recognising my Aunt Rosalind’s contribution to science by naming it after her. It was truly moving and filled me with pride and appreciation. It was an amazing day of learning and discovery and I know she would feel so honored and full of admiration towards everyone involved.”
ExoMars mission experts were on hand to answer her questions and to explain more about how the rover will be driven across the martian surface, and the science experiments it will carry out. One of the unique aspects of the rover is its two metre long drill that will retrieve underground samples for analysis in its onboard laboratory, where it will be able to sniff out signatures of life past or present.
Just as scientific discovery is in the soul of the ExoMars programme, Dr Rosalind Franklin knew from a young age that she wanted to be a scientist. Devoted and determined, she followed her dream, graduating with a Natural Sciences degree from Cambridge University, UK, in 1941, and earning a PhD in physical chemistry in 1945. She became an expert in X-ray diffraction imaging, applied to studying the physical chemistry of coals, and later revealing the hidden secrets of DNA, RNA and viruses.
Her legacy lives on today in a number of ways: numerous scientific institutes carry her name – one example being in the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Chicago, U.S, that her niece is a trustee of. Next year her legacy will extend into space, and her adventurous spirit will be lived through the intrepid exploration of the Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover as it discovers hidden secrets of the Red Planet.
The ExoMars programme is a joint endeavour between ESA and Roscosmos and comprises two missions: the first – the Trace Gas Orbiter – launched in 2016 while the second, comprising the Rosalind Franklin rover and Kazachok surface platform, is planned for 2020. Together they will address the question of whether life has ever existed on Mars. The TGO is already delivering important scientific results and will also relay the data from the ExoMars 2020 mission once it arrives at Mars in March 2021.
Europe's Mars lander passes parachute test
Previous problems appear to have been ironed out in craft’s essential landing equipment
Ground tests designed to validate the deployment of the parachutesthat will be used on the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Mars lander next year have started well at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. ESA’s ExoMars 2020 mission consists of the UK-built Rosalind Franklin rover, which will look for signs of past or present life, and the Russian Kazachok surface platform, which will monitor the local environment at the landing site.
The parachutes are essential in helping slow down the spacecraft from 21,000km/h at the top of the planet’s thin atmosphere, to virtually nothing six minutes later, when it touches down on the Martian soil. In tests earlier this year, the parachutes sustained damage during deployment. This was traced to the parachute bag in which they were held before being deployed.
Working with Nasa, ESA made modifications to the way the parachutes are released from the bag, which avoids creating so much friction. Using a special rig at JPL, the parachutes have now been tested up to their expected extraction speed of just over 200km/h with no sign of damage. Further confirmatory tests will now take place.
If all goes well, ExoMars 2020 will launch to the red planet sometime between 26 July and 11 August 2020.
Close-up of a test parachute following extraction from its bag. Photograph: Nasa/JPL-Caltech
Quelle: The Guardian
Promising progress for ExoMars parachutes
A series of ground-based tests designed to check the extraction of the ExoMars 2020 mission’s parachutes from their bags have started successfully with promising results to keep the mission on track for next year’s launch.
Landing on Mars is a high-risk endeavour with no room for error. In just six minutes, a descent module with its precious cargo cocooned inside has to slow from around 21 000 km/h at the top of the planet’s atmosphere, to a soft landing at the surface controlled by the lander’s propulsion system.
A key element of reaching the surface safely is based around a parachute system.
For ExoMars 2020, which comprises the Rosalind Franklin rover to explore the planet for signs of life, and the Kazachok surface platform to monitor the local environment at the landing site, a two-parachute system is used, each with its own pilot chute for extraction. The first main parachute has a diameter of 15 m and will be deployed while the descent module is still travelling at supersonic speeds, while the second main parachute has a 35 m diameter, the largest to ever fly on Mars.
Earlier this year, during two high-altitude drop tests, damage to both parachute canopies was observed. Intensive investigations revealed that the main issues concerned the parachute bags, and not the parachutes themselves. Thanks to support from NASA to benefit from their hands-on parachute experience, ESA has made modifications to the way the parachutes are released from the bags, to ease the extraction and avoid frictional damage.
The cooperation with NASA has also provided access to special test equipment at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory that is enabling ESA to conduct multiple dynamic extraction tests on the ground to validate the new design adaptations prior to the upcoming high-altitude drop tests. The ground tests mimic the high speeds at which the parachutes will be pulled from their bags during the descent phase at Mars.
Calibration tests, including low-speed extraction tests at around 120 km/h on both main parachutes and the first high-speed extraction test at a targeted speed of just over 200 km/h on the first main parachute, have already been completed. The low-speed tests were crucial to verify the stability of the new parachute bag design, while the high-speed tests mimic that at which the parachutes will be pulled from their bags during the descent phase at Mars.
Real-time observations of these initial tests showed a clean and correct release of the parachutes from their bags, with no damages seen in either the parachute system or the bag.
“Landing on Mars is difficult and we cannot afford to have any loose ends,” says Thierry Blancquaert, ExoMars Spacecraft Systems Engineering Team Leader. “After many hurdles, the parachute system modifications are moving forward, and these preliminary tests show very promising results that pave the way for the next qualification tests.”
To save time and resources, and to quickly test the proof of concept of the new parachute bags, the initial tests were carried out using the repaired parachutes from the high-altitude drop tests. Given the positive results of the first tests, and following the completion of the high-speed tests, the extractions will be repeated using the existing parachute ‘spares’, which have not been previously damaged or undergone repairs.
Importantly, unlike the high-altitude drop tests which require complex logistics and strict weather conditions, making them difficult to schedule, the ground tests can be repeated on a quick turnaround, buying significantly more time in the test campaign and reducing risk by allowing more tests to be conducted on a short time frame.
Further high-speed tests are planned in the coming weeks to confirm the results of the preliminary tests. Then the parachute systems will be tested again in two high-altitude drop tests in Oregon, US, in February and March 2020. The tests have to be completed prior to the ExoMars project’s ‘qualification and acceptance review’ planned for the end of April in order to meet the 2020 launch window (26 July–11 August).
In the meantime, the rover is nearing completion of its environmental test campaign at Airbus, Toulouse, France. At the same time, the flight model spacecraft that will transport the mission from Earth to Mars, and which contains the carrier module coupled with the Russian descent module, is at Thales Alenia Space, Cannes, France, where it underwent thermal environment tests. The scientific instruments of the surface platform are now being integrated by the Russian Academy of Sciences (IKI). The rover is expected in Cannes in late January, with the integration into the lander foreseen end February.
The mission will launch on a Proton-M rocket with a Breeze-M upper stage from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Once landed safely in the Oxia Planum region of Mars on 19 March 2021, the rover will drive off the surface platform, seeking out geologically interesting sites to drill below the surface, to determine if life ever existed on our neighbour planet.
All parachute system qualification activities are managed and conducted by a joint team involving the ESA project (supported by Directorate of Technology, Engineering and Quality expertise), TAS-I (prime contractor, in Turin), TAS-F (PAS lead, in Cannes), Vorticity (parachute design and test analysis, in Oxford) and Arescosmo (parachute and bags manufacturing, in Aprilia). NASA/JPL-Caltech has provided engineering consultancy, access to the dynamic extraction test facility, and on-site support. The extraction tests are supported through an engineering support contract with Airborne Systems, who also provide NASA’s Mars 2020 parachutes, and by Free Flight Enterprises for the provision of parachute folding and packing facilities.
The ExoMars programme is a joint endeavour between ESA and Roscosmos. In addition to the 2020 mission, it also includes the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) launched in 2016. The TGO is already both delivering important scientific results of its own and relaying data from NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover and InSight lander. It will also relay the data from the ExoMars 2020 mission once it arrives at Mars in March 2021.
'Rosalind Franklin' Mars rover edges closer to launch
Europe's Mars rover, Rosalind Franklin, has just completed a key set of tests ahead of its planned summer launch.
The robot was put in a thermal-vacuum chamber by manufacturer Airbus for several weeks, to simulate the hot and cold conditions it will experience on the way to the Red Planet.
Further evaluations are now planned for the vehicle's various sub-systems.
The European Space Agency rover is scheduled to leave Earth sometime between 26 July and 11 August.
Rosalind Franklin - a joint endeavour with the Russian space agency - is being equipped with instruments to look for signs of present or past life on Mars.
Given the harsh present-day environment on the planet, any biology is most likely to be found underground - and the robot will carry a drill to dig down up to 2m to find the samples for its on-board laboratory to investigate.
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Once all the testing is finished at Airbus's factory in Toulouse, France, Rosalind Franklin will be moved to Cannes.
It's in the Mediterranean town that prime contractor Thales Alenia Space (TAS) has one of its main satellite integration facilitates.
TAS will introduce the rover to all the other hardware elements needed for the mission.
These comprise a "cruise stage" stage, an entry capsule and a rocket-powered descent platform.
They carry the rover to Mars, protect it during the high-speed atmospheric entry, and, finally, put the robot softly down on the surface of the planet.
All these hardware elements are currently going through their own parallel test phases.
The one issue causing a degree of concern at the moment is the parachute system that will be released at supersonic speeds to slow Rosalind Franklin as it heads down to Mars' surface.
The material in these envelopes was tearing in rehearsals last year.
Esa called in the US space agency (Nasa) to help it get to the bottom of the problem, which seemed to relate to the way the chutes were folded in their containment bags.
ExoMars will have four parachutes. Two main parachutes - at 15m and 35m in diameter - and two much smaller companion drogue chutes.
Nasa has been running parachute deployment tests using modified bags. The tests are carried out on a high-velocity wire at the American agency's Jet Propulsion Lab in California.
"We started a sequence of ground tests and we reported publicly before Christmas that the first three were successful," said Dr David Parker, Esa's director of human and robotic exploration.
"I can tell you a fourth test happened on Monday which was the full deployment speed of the large main parachute - so 50m/s deployment of the 35m parachute - and it also was successful.
"We are now shifting our focus to doing two high-altitude drop tests to be carried out in Oregon in the US using the modified bags.
"They're planned for February and March, and only when we've completed those tests will we know that we have a system that's safe to launch."
If the drop tests, which will be conducted from stratospheric balloons, repeat past tearing or show up new problems, the rover mission will have to be postponed.
This would mean a delay of two years. This is the period it takes for Mars and Earth to realign their orbits.
Such a postponement would add cost the project but Esa is not revealing what that would actually entail for commercial reasons. It prefers instead to concentrate on getting the current hardware mission-ready.
"We don't think too much about Plan B because if you do, it's already become Plan A," said Bernardo Patti, a senior official in the human and robotic exploration directorate.
"We are engineering positive. People are working incredibly hard. You should see the commitment," he told BBC News.