Is there life on other worlds or is planet Earth the only place in our Solar System where living organisms have evolved? ESA is inviting European and Canadian industry to participate in its exciting ExoMars mission in order to provide an answer to this age-old question.
On 9 July, the Aurora Programme Office issued an Invitation to Tender (ITT) for companies wishing to submit proposals for the detailed design of the ExoMars rover and its Pasteur payload of scientific instruments.
The deadline for submission of proposals is 13 October 2003, after which two companies will be selected to conduct the one-year Phase A design studies.
The ExoMars mission includes an orbiter and a descent module that will land a large (200 kg), high-mobility rover on the surface of Mars. After delivery of the lander/rover, the ExoMars orbiter will also operate as a data relay satellite between the Earth and the vehicle on the Martian surface.
The primary objective of the ExoMars rover will be to search for signs of life, past or present, on the Red Planet. Additional measurements will be taken to identify potential surface hazards for future human missions, to determine the distribution of water on Mars and to measure the chemical composition of the surface rocks.
The vehicle will be equipped with a comprehensive suite of scientific instruments -- the Pasteur payload -- that will include tools able to extract, handle and analyse samples of Martian soil. The instrument mass of this payload is anticipated to be around 40 kg.
"ExoMars is a very ambitious mission and a key step in the development of the Aurora long-term plan to send a human expedition to Mars," said Bruno Gardini, Aurora Project Manager.
"Not only will it include Europe's first planetary roving vehicle, but it will also be the first of its kind to carry an exobiology payload, a set of instruments specifically designed to search for life," he said.
"Interplanetary spacecraft, and landing vehicles in particular, need to be very compact and efficient, with minimum mass and minimum power consumption," he added. "The scope of the present study is, therefore, to provide an integrated rover design, efficiently combining locomotion, scientific instruments and rover subsystems."
ESA intends to launch ExoMars in 2009, as the first Flagship mission of the Aurora programme. The ExoMars Phase A studies will be financed by ESA's Aurora and ELIPS programmes.
Companies interested in responding to this invitation should visit the agency's Electronic Invitation to Tender System (EMITS) website.
* EMITS -- Electronic Invitation to Tender System http://emits.esa.int
IMAGE CAPTION: [http://www.esa.int/export/esaCP/SEMVQWXO4HD_index_1.html] Artist's view of the ExoMars descent module carrying the rover. Credits: ESA