Some 60 scientists and engineers came together March 26-28, 2014, for the first ExoMars 2018 Landing Site Selection Workshop, held at ESA’s European Space Astronomy Centre near Madrid. Their task was to begin the process of drawing up a shortlist of the most suitable landing locations for ESA’s first Mars rover.
ExoMars, a joint endeavour between ESA and Russia’s Roscosmos space agency, comprises two missions for launch to Mars: the Trace Gas Orbiter and an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module, Schiaparelli, to be launched in 2016; and the ExoMars Rover and Surface Platform scheduled for launch in May 2018, with touchdown on Mars expected in January 2019. The key driver behind the choice of landing site for the 2018 mission is the rover’s search for evidence of Martian life, past or present.
A call for landing site proposals was issued last year by ESA and the Space Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, IKI (on behalf of Roscosmos). Eight proposals that were judged to be most appropriate to the mission’s requirements were discussed during the recent workshop, and an initial shortlist of favoured locations was drawn up at the end of the meeting (see below). The workshop attendees favoured four candidate sites – all of which are located relatively near the equator – that were considered to be the most likely to achieve the mission’s objectives. They are: Mawrth Vallis (for which 2, very similar, proposals were received), Oxia Planum, Hypanis Vallis and Oxia Palus.