A new instrument designed for ESA’s ExoMars 2020 mission has shown its ability to withstand the conditions on the Red Planet. The device is on its way to Russia for another review acceptance followed by an assembly onto the Kazachok Surface Platform for its launch by next year. The Lander Radioscience (LaRa) experiment is almost the size of a milk carton, but it has a high-performing transponder that can help maintain the radio-frequency link between Earth and Mars for a complete Martian year. ESA’s PRODEX program is the pioneer behind LaRa and other science experiments for space as well. LaRa was tested at the Mechanical Systems Laboratory (MSL), Noordwijk, as the simulation of Mars-like conditions was easier there.
The device was tested for thermal, gaseous, and temperature cycling conditions before being given a green signal. ExoMars lander’s heater could help keep LaRa’s electronic box warm and the antennas of it will be fabricated to withstand the temperature cycling. The ESA and Université Catholique de Louvain had worked on the novel antenna design. In order to avoid microbial contamination, LaRa is subjected to stringent planetary protection protocols designed for interplanetary missions. Kazachok Surface Platform wants to safely launch LaRa down to the Oxia Planum lowlands on Mars.
LaRa will collect X-band radio signal from Earth and relay it. The Doppler shifts between the signals will help researchers’ measure tiny periodic shifts in Surface Platform’s position over time and, in turn, provide invaluable Martian interior data. The rotation & orientation, variations in angular momentum owing to mass redistribution, and detection of landing position will be the functions allocated to LaRa. After the testing in High-Power Radio Frequency Laboratory of ESA, it was tested for electromagnetic compatibility, robustness, and surface flatness in ESTEC. From there, it will be further transported to the Russian Space Research Institute for final acceptance testing followed by full-assembly level on the platform. Likewise, the ESA recently experienced a slight tremble after its lander suffered a parachute malfunction during the testing. After the incident, ESA had declared that there are chances the ExoMars 2020 mission may have to face a slight slowdown but the project officials, on the other hand, completely denied it.