Scientists have created a toaster oven scale laboratory for a Mars rover that will drill beneath the surface of the red planet and search for signs of past or present life.
The tiny chemical lab called Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer (MOMA) is a key instrument of the ExoMars Rovers, a joint mission of the European Space Agency and the Russian Space Agency Roskosmos, with an important contribution to NASA's MOMA. 19659002] It will be launched on Mars in July 2020.
"The ExoMars Rover's two-meter-deep drill will provide MOMA with unique samples that can contain complex organic compounds obtained from an ancient era when life began on Mars," said Will Brinckerhoff, project scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA in the USA.
Although the surface of Mars today is inhospitable to known life forms, there is evidence that the Mars climate in the distant past allowed for the presence of liquid water ̵
This evidence includes features that resemble dry riverbeds and mineral deposits that form only in the presence of liquid water.
NASA has sent rovers to Mars who have found additional signs of habitable environments.
The MOMA device will be able to detect a variety of organic molecules. Organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen and may contain oxygen, nitrogen and other elements. To find these molecules on Mars, the MOMA team had to take instruments the size of a toaster oven to install on a rover.
Mars rovers face another challenge in finding traces of life: contamination. To ensure this, the MOMA team has taken great care to ensure that the instrument is as free as possible of terrestrial molecules that are vital signs.
The ExoMars rover will be the first to experiment deep below the surface with a drill capable of sampling up to two meters deep.
Marssediments, however, are an effective protective shield, and the team expects larger amounts of organic molecules to be found in subsurface samples.
MOMA recently completed both ESA and NASA prior to delivery, paving the way for the delivery of the instrument to the mission.
On May 16, the MOMA mass spectrometer was delivered to Thales Alenia Space in Italy, where it will be integrated into the rover's analytical laboratory drawer during mission activities this summer.
Following further high-level rover and spacecraft integration activities in 2019, the ExoMars Rover will launch in July 2020 from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to Mars.