UK Pavilion gets Rosalind Franklin Mars rover display

The UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai will prominently display a life-size replica of the Rosalind Franklin Mars rover during the entire six-month duration of the first World Expo to be held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia region.

Built by Airbus Defence and Space at the company’s dedicated facility in Stevenage, UK, the Rosalind Franklin rover is an integral component of the ExoMars programme – a joint endeavour launched in 2016 between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos.

British scientist

The rover is named after Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958), the UK scientist and co-discoverer of the molecular structure of DNA.

ExoMars is the first space mission to honour a woman scientist on its flagship discovery spacecraft.

The UK Pavilion’s main theme at Expo 2020 Dubai is ‘Innovating for a Shared Future’.

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The Rosalind Franklin rover leaves its Stevenage, UK production site for testing, ahead of its mid-2022 launch. Credit: Max Alexander/Airbus

The UK Space Agency is the second-largest European contributor to the ExoMars programme, with several UK-based private sector companies and universities having played a leading role in the design and manufacture of the rover.

The ExoMars mission will launch the 300kg Rosalind Franklin rover on a seven-month long journey to Mars in mid-2022, with the landing of the robotic vehicle on the Martian surface scheduled for early 2023.

To date, only the United States and China have successfully soft-landed autonomous rovers on Mars.

Search for life

The primary goal of the ExoMars programme is to examine whether life has ever existed on Mars. This relates to its name, with the ‘exo’ referring to the study of exobiology – the possible existence of life beyond Earth.

The ExoMars programme comprises two key missions.

The first ExoMars mission launched in March 2016 and consists of the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and Schiaparelli, an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module.

TGO’s main objectives are to search for evidence of methane and other trace atmospheric gases that could be signatures of active biological or geological processes.

The second ExoMars mission is planned for launch in mid-2022 and comprises the Rosalind Franklin rover and surface science platform.

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The UK-built ExoMars rover is named after UK scientist Rosalind Franklin, co-discoverer of the molecular structure of DNA. Credit: ESA

The data collected by the Rosalind Franklin rover will help to evaluate risks for future crewed missions as well as assist in broader studies of Martian geochemistry and environmental science.

The Rosalind Franklin rover carries a drill and a suite of instruments dedicated to exobiology and geochemistry research.

The six-wheeled rover will collect Martian samples with a drill down to a depth of two metres and analyse them with next-generation instruments in its onboard clean-room laboratory.

According to ESA, underground Martian samples are more likely to include biomarkers, since the tenuous Martian atmosphere offers little protection from radiation and photochemistry at the surface.

Landing site

The primary objective of the ExoMars programme is to land the rover at a site with high potential for finding well-preserved organic material, particularly from the very early history of the Red Planet.

The Rosalind Franklin rover is expected to travel several kilometres during its Mars mission.

On March 12, 2020, ESA and Roscosmos decided to postpone the launch of the Rosalind Franklin rover to the summer of 2022, on account of technical glitches involving the proposed Russian launch vehicle, the need to test components on the spacecraft further, as well as the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Dmitry Rogozin, Roscosmos Director General, said: “We have made a difficult but well-weighed decision to postpone the launch to 2022. I am confident that the steps that we and our European colleagues are taking to ensure mission success will be justified and will unquestionably bring solely positive results for the mission implementation.”

Jan Wörner, ESA Director General, added: “We want to make ourselves 100% sure of a successful mission. We cannot allow ourselves any margin of error. More verification activities will ensure a safe trip and the best scientific results on Mars.”

The UK Pavilion, which is situated in the Opportunity district at the Expo 2020 Dubai site, will present an informative content programme for visitors featuring the UK’s latest innovations across various sectors, including mobility and space.

The UK Pavilion will focus on the mobility industry, including space travel in its ‘How will we Travel’ in-pavilion presentation from November 19-23, 2021.

Space will also figure prominently in the ‘How will we Advance’ in-pavilion programme from March 17-21, 2022.

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Artist’s rendering of the ESA Mars Sample Fetch Rover. Credits: ESA/Airbus

Meanwhile, the ESA has contracted Airbus Defence and Space to design and build an advanced Mars Sample Fetch Rover.

Mars Sample Return is a joint NASA and ESA campaign to return samples from the Red Planet.

Perseverance, NASA’s Mars rover that landed on the Red Planet in February 2021 will collect Martian soils and rock samples and leave them on the planet’s surface in small metal tubes.

2026 rendezvous

In 2026, NASA will launch ESA’s four-wheeled Mars Sample Fetch Rover to the Red Planet, to collect these tubes. Landing in 2028, the ESA rover will travel an average of 200 metres a day, over a period of six months to find and pick up the samples.

It will collect up to 36 tubes, carry them back to its lander and place them in a Mars Ascent Vehicle which will launch them into orbit around Mars.

Another spacecraft developed by ESA (with a NASA payload), the Earth Return Orbiter (ERO), will collect the samples from Martian orbit and return them to Earth.

Airbus in Stevenage, UK, is leading the Mars Sample Fetch Rover project, following the successful completion of the Rosalind Franklin rover for the ExoMars mission.

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