Professor Javier Martín-Torres and professor María Paz Zorzano, of the Group of Atmospheric Science (GAS) participated, at the fifth and final ExoMars Landing Site Selection. The purpose of this meeting was to select one single place to be recommended as future landing site for the ESA/Roscosmos’ 2020 mission (2020 rover and Surface Platform). The workshop was held at the National Space Centre in Leicester, UK.
Between the two “finalist” candidates, namely, Mawrth Vallis and Oxia Planum, the selection Group, integrated by an international pool of experts from the Mars science community, industry, and ExoMars project, proposed the latter as the most convenient landing site regarding the main scientific goals, among which the quest to determine if life has ever existed on Mars stands out. This meeting was also interesting for the future research of HABIT, as there were representatives of all the instruments of the rover, as well as the PIs of the European instruments of the Surface Platform, LARA and HABIT. Oxia Planum holds a rich record of geological history from locations where liquid water was present in the past, approximately four billion years ago. Since life as we know it on Earth requires liquid water, this site includes many prime targets to search for clues that may help reveal the presence of past life on Mars.
Besides this core goal, there are other engineering criteria and security factors which have been applied to prioritize Oxia Planum, including the Entry, Descent and Landing phase and the surface mobility. In particular, the terrain is favourable for completing the traverses to reach scientifically interesting sites that have been identified from orbit, as well as for sampling by means of the novel drill the rover is equipped with.
The proposal has now been submitted to ESA and Roscosmos, and a definitive decision will be then officially adopted by mid-2019. The process of landing site selection will be finally closed this way, after 5 years since the science community was initially asked to propose candidate locations.